Review: Denzel Washington’s ‘Equalizer’ is more ‘Home Alone’ than ‘Man On Fire’

The basic premise of the '80s TV series “The Equalizer” was just generic enough to survive on CBS in that decade of bland, and in making the jump to the big-screen, it appears to have survived with all of that bland firmly intact.

While I personally didn't care for much of anything about the film, I don't think it's ineptly made or awful so much as just forgettable. It's a teflon film. It slid right off my brain pan just as soon as it made it in through the rods and cones, and even trying to summon up specific scenes or gags a few days later, I can already feel it slipping away. Part of the problem is just plain familiarity with the tropes of the film. Denzel Washington plays Denzel Washington, essentially. This isn't a character the same way Creasy in “Man On Fire” was a character. It's a very mild riff on the persona that he's firmly established over the last 20 years, and the one thing that distinguishes him is the way he sort of thinks his way through a fight visually before it happens.

Sound familiar? It should. We've seen it a lot lately. The two examples I can think of right away are “Jack Reacher” and, specifically, the “Sherlock Holmes” movies with Robert Downey Jr. It felt fresh when Guy Ritchie did it, but at this point, it doesn't seem like that's enough to hang a movie on, and there's really nothing else to recommend about “The Equalizer.” Antoine Fuqua's got this weird streak of uber-violence that marred “Olympus Has Fallen” for me and that really pulled me out of this movie several times. I'm not a squeamish viewer, but it's just out of place here. For the most part, the film chugs along in this sort of amiable low-key mode, but every now and then, when it erupts into bloodshed, it is almost absurdly violent, and it's hard for me to describe it as fun when it gets that savagely bloodthirsty.

They could have called the film “The Handyman,” and it would have been just as apt a title as the one they actually went with. Moreso, maybe, since it's not like anyone every uses the term “equalizer” in the movie or mentions anyone getting equalized. Honestly, if the point of the film is that this someone who helps people who can't help themselves in any way, the various people he helps in the film are a fairly lousy line-up. I like Chloe Grace Moretz as a performer, but she is profoundly miscast here as a downtrodden Russian hooker who sets off Washington's sympathies. Moretz is simply too strong, too well put-together, too unbroken for the character to work. It would help if there was something more to the script, but she's stuck doing all the heavy lifting, and she's the wrong person to do it.

Likewise, I think Martin Csokas is straight-up terrible as the bad guy in the film. He plays it so big and so broad that it would only really work if he turned out to be a genuine threat, the immovable object to Denzel's unstoppable force. Nope. There's a lot of build-up that's supposed to make him seem like that, but when it actually comes down to it, I simply don't buy it.

The last act of this film is essentially “Home Alone” in a Home Depot, and it's super-silly. It takes a long time to get there, too, and I can't think of a single scene along the way that did anything for me. It's almost surreal to me to watch a film where it feels like all the hopes and dreams of the filmmakers rest on movie star charisma carrying the day. Considering how long we've been hearing how high the test scores on this film have been (a story studios are only happy to have reported when it works in their favor), and considering they already greenlit the sequel, I expected something more, something with either some real substance or a greater sense of play.

There's probably a franchise here is the first one works, but the writing's got to get a hell of a lot more clever and quick, because this just isn't enough. Then again, if this hits, it serves as a real reinforcement of how valuable Denzel is in terms of casting, because there's really nothing else Fuqua can lean on as a draw. It's technically fine. The photography by Mauro Fiore, the score by Henry Gregson-Williams, the way John Refoua cuts the action… all of it is fine. But unless there's a compelling reason for these characters to be entangled, I don't get the point. It's a dull film, and when you're making a giant action movie franchise about a former intelligence agent who chooses to spend his days working anonymously at a hardware store, “dull” seems like just about the worst thing it could be.

“The Equalizer” opens everywhere September 26th.