The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Equalizer

The Equalizer utilizes two of the most irritating, overused cliches in modern action cinema. The first is a hero with a shady Special Forces/Black Ops/C.I.A. background This means that he can take down a roomful of heavily-armed men with his bare hands, jerry-rig deadly booby traps using everyday objects, and psychically predict what the bad guys will do before they do it. The other cliche is the Russian mafia, the current go-to villains in action movies that need a generic threat. This means lots of indistinguishable thick-accented, heavily-tattooed guys talking about complicated business deals involving hookers, sex trafficking, and/or drugs. (The Russian mafia made another recent appearance in the awful Nicolas Cage picture, Rage.) The Equalizer also has the line of dialogue, He won't stop until he kills you and everyone you care about!, as well as a shot where the hero walks away from an explosion without blinking. All this is a roundabout way of saying that it's as routine and formulaic as you're going to get.

In some ways, The Equalizer is a perfect TV show to resurrect for the big screen. It was popular in the '80s, yet not so iconic that it can't be open to a new interpretation. This version reimagines the premise as an uber-violent revenge picture. Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, a one-time doer of bad government-sanctioned things who left the agency and decided to start life over. We find him working at a Home Depot-type store where, in his spare time, he helps an overweight co-worker get in shape to become a security guard. (Think that'll be a plot point later on?) Unable to sleep, he makes a nightly journey to a local diner. There, he frequently chats up teenage prostitute Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz). Sometimes she shows up battered and bruised. On one such occasion, a bunch of shady men toss her into a car against her will. McCall decides to track down the scum who did this, only to find himself facing Russian mobster Teddy (Marton Csokas) and his many, many goons. Bloody mayhem ensues.

Denzel Washington has adopted the “one for me, one for them” style of career management. He'll go and make something ambitious like Training Day, American Gangster, or Flight, then turn around and do an up-the-middle action picture where he exploits his well-honed screen persona rather than disappearing into character. Lots of stars – the most successful ones, in fact – do the same thing. Tom Cruise does. So do Sandra Bullock, Will Smith, and Liam Neeson. In this regard, The Equalizer would seem to be a great fit. Washington has made this kind of movie much better, though. In the realm of his mainstream action fare, it ranks well below Safe House, Man on Fire, Unstoppable, and even The Taking of Pelham 123.

That's because it is so frustratingly unimaginative. The Equalizer is chock full of cliches, obvious bits of foreshadowing, and illogical acts. Writer Richard Wenk previously penned 16 Blocks, The Mechanic, and The Expendables 2, so you know he's not the most innovative dreamer when it comes to action scenarios. Director Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen), meanwhile, stages everything with thudding obviousness, so that there's no trace of shading or ambiguity to be found anywhere. Some of the things the film asks us to swallow are just outright dumb. For instance, in one scene, McCall, brandishing a key fob, tortures a guy by locking him in a car that has a hose pumping carbon monoxide into it. The Equalizer hopes we'll forget that cars can be unlocked from the inside, and that the windows can also be lowered internally.

By and large, The Equalizer exists as an excuse to show Denzel Washington graphically killing assorted baddies in very R-rated ways. These action sequences have no weight because the movie makes a very hypocritical choice. McCall supposedly reverts back to his dangerous ways to help Teri, yet the character disappears from the movie for a full ninety minutes. She's allegedly the person fueling the plot, but The Equalizer treats her as an afterthought. By the time she reappears, you could be forgiven for forgetting that Chloe Grace Moretz is even in this movie.

Overlong at 131 minutes and frequently monotonous in its carnage, The Equalizer fails to deliver the basic thrills one would expect from a Denzel Washington action picture. If you want to see the actor doing his “thing” again, just revisit one of the other, better titles on his resume.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Equalizer is rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references. The running time is 2 hours and 11 minutes.

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