Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Equalizer

1.5/4

Starring: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Melissa Leo, Bill Pullman

Rated R for Strong Bloody Violence and Language Throughout, including Some Sexual References

While it is probably impossible for Denzel Washington to give a bad performance (he's too talented and too devoted to the job to do so), he has, on occasion, coasted through roles on his charisma alone.  "Virtuosity," "Fallen," "Flight," "Safe House..." there aren't many, but Washington has done it.  That's what he's doing here.  Fortunately, he's still an engaging presence on the screen.  Unfortunately, even if he was trying, he wouldn't be able to save this movie.

Robert McCall (Washington) leads a simple life.  He works at a hardware store and in his free time, helps one of his co-workers Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis) lose weight so he can become a security guard.  He doesn't sleep a lot, so he spends his nights reading at a late night diner.  That's where he meets a young prostitute named Alina (Grace-Moretz).  They form a careful friendship, but when she is brutally attacked, he decides to get revenge for her.  Needless to say, that doesn't go over well with the local chapter of the Russian mob, so they send a psycho named Teddy (Csokas) to take him out.  Before he knows it, Robert has begun a one-man war with the entire Russian mafia.

It's obvious that Denzel's heart isn't in his performance.  He's still an arresting presence and delivers his lines as only he can, but this isn't one of his finer moments.  Chloe Grace Moretz is terrific as always, but her role is small.  It's a supporting role, not a co-starring one.  As the villain, I got the sense that Marton Csokas could be more menacing had his part been better written.  There are moments when he is creepy, but his role isn't written strongly enough for him to be truly creepy.  Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman show up for one scene.

The film's problem is not that it's formulaic.  I've defended films that follow a formula as long as they do it well ("Avatar," anyone?).  That's not the case here.  The film is poorly paced and kind of dumb.  The villains make at least two obvious errors, and that destroys a lot of the film's credibility.  If it didn't take itself so seriously, I might be able to look the other way, but director Antoine Fuqua wants this to be a dark, gritty thriller.

Director Antoine Fuqua has had a varied but never spectacular career.  He was behind "Training Day," which one Washington his second Oscar, and "Shooter," but he was also responsible for "Olympus has Fallen" and "Brooklyn's Finest" (the latter of which I didn't even finish).  This is not one of his better movies, in case you haven't figured that out.

The film's climax, which takes place in a department store, is nicely executed, and that double meaning is intended.  Instead of the avenging angel that he's been for the majority of the film, he attacks his enemies with the zeal of a slasher movie villain.  It's "Home Alone" with a body count.  And a lot of good will is destroyed by the scene's end, which descends almost to the point of self-parody.

"The Equalizer's" worst sin is that it's boring.  Skip it unless you need a sleep aid.

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