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Home supply center of DEATH!!! “The Equalizer”

September 29, 2014

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At this point in our shared history of American filmmaking I think we can all agree that when it comes to originality, Hollywood is about as virile as that quadzillion year-old dude Guy Pearce played in Prometheus (you know, where he was wearing the makeup that made him look like a human apple-head doll?) And yet even with most movie producers content to churn out remakes and sequels until the Universe dies, The Equalizer is still a really unlikely property to adapt. It was a relatively short-lived TV series about a former spy turned urban-vigilante, and it starred Edward Woodward. Which is weird because A) he looked a good twenty years older than he really was, and B) he was British, which makes him an odd recruit for an American intelligence service. Anyhoo, it’s 2014, and Hollywood obviously just assumes that anyone who actually watched the original show is now dead (thanks, Hollywood), and they’ve remade the series as an action movie. The good news is in casting Denzel Washington, they’ve gotten an actor who, while a solid decade older than Woodward was in the role, actually looks like he could dismantle a couple of Russian thugs. The bad news is the movie’s an over-long, atonal mess that doesn’t isn’t even fun when the hero is killing bad guys with gardening tools.

So, The Equalizer has a plot that’s pretty much simplicity itself: Bob McCall, a retired spy, runs afoul of the Russian mafia when they savagely beat a teenaged prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz) McCall is chatty with at the diner where he takes most of his meals. Well, this upsets McCall, so he meets the girl’s pimp and tries to negotiate a reasonable settlement. Well, that goes about you’d expect—what with the Russian mafia being such agreeable folk an all—and McCall ends up killing a bunch of them with a couple of corkscrews. This alone shows McCall’s awesomeness, since I can barely open a bottle of Pinot Noir without my corkscrews bending into uselessness.

Well, as they say no good deed goes unpunished, and pretty soon McCall is tangling with basically the entire East Coast Russian mafia and a suavely-savage ringer (Martin Csokas) sent from Moscow to uncover the parties responsible for the pimp-slaughter. Wackiness ensues—and by “wackiness” I mean, “McCall kills more Russians that the Battle of Stalingrad.”

The new Equalizer: now 100% jailbaitier.

The new Equalizer: now 100% jailbaitier.

The Equalizer is a perfect delivery vehicle for pulpy fun. Unfortunately, in the hands of Antoine Fuqua the movie is a largely joyless, self-serious slog. Fuqua helped win Denzel Washington another Academy Award for Training Day, and that was enough to largely obfuscate the fact that Training Day was kind of a stupid movie and that Fuqua isn’t a very good director. Even putting aside his various superfluous smash-cuts, weird lenses, and his need to flashback to scenes we just saw two minutes earlier, Fuqua seems to think he’s telling a genuinely soul-searing story here. As opposed to the one he’s really making in which a 62 year-old man fights off a team of Russian assassins with the contents of a Home Depot.

What should be a fun, brainless action movie instead is imbued with the operatic weight of a Godfather installment. Only the climatic scene—in which McCall confronts Csokas with a nail gun—does the movie seem to understand its own absurdity. Even then, it’s a fifty/fifty chance that Fuqua’s in on the joke.

This is one of the more exciting scenes.

This is one of the more exciting scenes.

Weirdly enough, though, this version of The Equalizer is more faithful to the TV show than probably anyone on the production team could have guessed. During the filming of the show, Woodward was sidelined by a heart attack, which meant many episodes only had about five minutes of Equalizer in it. The rest of the episode was taken up following the victim being victimized, going to work, watching TV, doing the dishes, sleeping, and so forth. In short, they were padded more than a Bangkok ladyboy. Well, so is this Equalizer, as it runs over two hours. I mean, Jesus Donkeyhumping Christ, you do not need 131 minutes to tell this story. I mean, this is a 90, 100-minuter, tops. Instead we get an endlessly draggy first half in which we see way too many scenes of McCall eat dinner at the most depressing diner in the world and sometimes try and help some dude meet the weight requirements to be a security guard. Yes, it all comes round at the end, though I’d be hard-pressed to call it “paying off.” More like, “well, that wasn’t a total waste of time.”

The bar was a tad lower for our action heroes in the '80s.

The bar was a tad lower for our TV action heroes in the ’80s.

The performances are all solid, as you’d imagine. I mean, it’s Denzel Washington and Chloe Grace Moretz. We know they’re good actors, and this movie doesn’t really give them any heavy lifting. Denzel just looks grim, and Chloe just looks vulnerable.

Anyone else get the feeling Denzel's been phoning it in for a while now?

Anyone else get the feeling Denzel’s been phoning it in for a while now?

So, it’s long, it’s grim, and it doesn’t show us much we haven’t seen before. Here’s hoping the next time Hollywood tells this story they give it a bit more levity. And they will tell it again. TV in the ‘80s was rife with former spooks and soldiers who went freelance to help the little guy: Stingray, Cover Up, Airwolf, Magnum PI it’s kind of a wonder we ever won the Cold War with all these yahoos busting up mobsters and evil land developers and not hunting commies like they should have been.

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