The Equalizer (2014) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4) : Washington and Fuqua back in action together

theequalizer02 Maybe because I have reviewed films more frequently than ever during this month, I have so far watched no less than 3 action movies which are notably similar to each other in several aspects. First, I watched “Taken 3” (2015) on the first Sunday of this year, and then I watched “Falcon Rising” (2014) a few days later, and then I watched “John Wick” (2014) in last week. All of them are virtually based on the same premise which has also been used by many, many previous action flicks for years: a formidable tough guy ready to kill all those bad guys who dare to mess with him.

And now I watched “The Equalizer”, Antoine Fuqua’s new action film which is, again, basically based on that ever-reliable action movie premise. There is nothing particularly new here, and its plot is quite predictable from the beginning to the ending, but it does a fairly competent job of serving us with slick style and gritty action for our entertainment, and that makes it a little more enjoyable than many other bland, forgettable action films I vaguely remember.

When he is introduced to us during the opening scene, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) merely looks like a decent anonymous citizen living alone somewhere in Boston. While he does not have anyone particularly close to him, he is a model employee who gets along well with his co-workers at a big hardware shopping mall, and he is currently helping a young chubby employee named Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis), who wants to pass the upcoming qualification test for security guard but is not very confident about whether he can do it or not (in the other words, he is someone who will be *very* important later in the story).

After his work time at the mall, McCall usually spends his nighttime on reading book in a diner whose lonely nocturnal mood on its urban street is reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s famous painting “Nighthawks”. While there are not many people in the diner around this late time, there is a young prostitute who routinely frequents this place, and Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz) and McCall have developed a sort of friendship as getting accustomed to each other’s presence.

theequalizer01 But then Teri is badly beaten by her cruel pimp on one day, and, after seeing her injured state at the hospital, McCall decides that he must do something for her, and, not so surprisingly, he turns out to be far more than what he looks like on the surface. He instantly goes to her Russian pimp with an offer, but, as soon as he clearly sees that there is no possibility of negotiation, his mind quickly spins in a hyperactive visual way not so far from Guy Ritches’ “Sherlock Holmes” (2009), and then his body swiftly executes a merciless punishment on the pimp and the other Russian gangs who unfortunately happen to be on the spot (two of them get killed in particularly nasty ways involved with a corkscrew, by the way).

And that is the beginning of his big trouble with some powerful Russian gang organization. As its resourceful fixer, Teddy (Marton Csokas) is immediately sent from Russia for taking care of the problem as soon as possible, and we also meet a bunch of corrupt local cops who have no choice but to assist this sinister fixer who will not tolerate anything stupid or foolish. Exuding menace and malevolence whenever he appears, Marton Csokas is effective the main villain of the movie, and it is quite apparent from his very first appearance that this smart, ruthless villain is going to confront his match sooner or later.

As Teddy approaches closer to McCall step by step, McCall, who turns out to be a former special government agent, begins to realize that he can use his skills for others as, uh, community service. He indirectly helps Ralphie after he happens to learn of the ongoing trouble of Ralphie’s mother (no, she does not need medical help), and he also gives some lesson to a robber who took something valuable from one of cashiers at the mall besides the money in her cash register (a certain tool at the mall comes handy to McCall, of course).

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Based on the popular TV series of the 1980s which I am not that familiar with (I only indirectly encountered it through its brief appearance in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)), “The Equalizer” is improvement compared to the director Antoine Fuqua’s previous film “Olympus Has Fallen” (2013), which was quite ludicrous in addition to the unintentionally hilarious Korean dialogues of its North Korean bad guys. Compared to that brainlessly overblown action film, “The Equalizer” is a calmer piece focused on building up mood and tension rather than action during most of its running time, and Fuqua, who is a skillful action movie director, makes it sure that it delivers a nice dramatic payoff in the end when the story eventually accumulates to a tense action climax.

While he is passing 60, Denzel Washington, who gave an electrifying Oscar-winning performance as the charismatic corrupt cop in Fuqua’s “Training Day” (2001), is believable as a stoic tough guy hero although the performance is pretty much same as his previous works in other gritty action films such as “Man on Fire” (2004). His performance in “The Equalizer” is less compelling than his recent Oscar-nominated turn in “Flight” (2012), but Washington is an actor who can always grab our attention through his magnetic star presence, and the movie is supported and fueled well by his solid performance.

Overall, “The Equalizer” is a slick, well-made product which gives you as much as you pay for your ticket price, but it is a little too long for me with several disappointments to note. While I noticed a number of plot holes during my viewing (I could not help but amused by the glaring inefficiency of the bad guys around the climax, for instance), it is also a bit shame that its good actors including Chloë Grace Moretz, Melissa Leo, David Harbour, and Bill Pullman are not utilized well in their underdeveloped roles. I will not deny that I enjoyed “The Equalizer” to some degrees, and it is certainly better than “Taken 3”, but I must be fair; considering that I gave “John Wick” and “Falcon Rising” 3 stars while giving “Taken 3” 1.5 star, “The Equalizer” deserves 2.5 stars according to my quite meaningless star rating, and you may take it as a mild recommendation.

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