By: Kevin Jordan
MacGyver’s a sissy.
The Equalizer continues my string of going into movies and knowing next to nothing about them. This one ups the ante of my ignorance because, not only did I see exactly zero previews, but it’s based off a television show of the same name that ran from 1985 to 1989. I only know that because my friend told me about it after we watched the movie. I was alive during those years and watched similar shows like The Fall Guy and The A-Team, yet I had never even heard of it, let alone seen an episode. So, if you ever needed proof that I might not have the first clue what I’m talking about, there you go.
(SPOILERS coming, but only the gross kind.)
I’m also not the only one continuing a trend. Denzel Washington has jumped onto the bandwagon of middle-aged dudes starring as super spies/agents/soldiers, following Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan (guys like Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis don’t count because they’ve been doing that role for decades). In The Equalizer, (in my head, the title is always Denzel Washington is The Equalizer) Washington plays Bob McCall, a quiet, OCD widower, working at HomeMart (it’s essentially Home Depot), living alone, and spending nights at a little diner because he can’t sleep. His hobby is encouraging people to better themselves and applicants need not apply. Are you a fat clerk who wants to make security guard? Bob will help you lose weight. Are you a hooker who can sing? Bob will listen to your CD. Did your pimp beat the shit out of you and put you in the ICU? Bob will shoot that pimp in the neck and kill the pimp’s henchmen with a corkscrew. You don’t even need to ask, Bob’s just that kind of guy.
Incidentally, that last one is what sparks the rest of the movie. During the diner scenes, the hooker, Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz), and Bob develop a friendship. Bob decides he can’t allow the pimp to go unpunished for nearly killing Alina, resulting in the previously mentioned scene. What Bob doesn’t realize is that the pimp he kills isn’t just some run of the mill pimp; he’s a Russian mid-level gangster in charge of East-coast operations. Bob has unwittingly kicked off a chain of clichéd action events in which the bad guy will expend a tremendous amount of resources to kill Bob, even after learning that Bob isn’t a threat. This also introduces us to Bob’s counterpart – head henchman Teddy (Marton Csokas) who has no qualms about killing low-level competitors, his own prostitutes, or cops on his payroll, whether they know anything or not. He’s an adequately terrifying (at least to other characters) villain and, even though he begins as a patient and calculating guy and we’re told he is an ex-Russian special forces soldier, he slides into the standard villain tropes such as kidnapping Bob’s friends and trying to lure Bob into a trap. Rookie mistake, Teddy.
I’d like to tell you there’s more plot than that, but there isn’t. It’s nothing more than a two hour and fifteen minute exercise in Bob doing his best impression of MacGyver, but only if MacGyver were a sociopath and finding ever more intricate ways to kill people. What makes the movie interesting isn’t everything I’ve just told you but Bob himself. The movie uses a Sherlock-ian film technique whenever Bob is morphing from softball teammate to assassin by quickly panning and zooming between specific details in the shot, giving the impression that Bob is sizing up and planning every move in the next minute or so and transforming into killer-Bob. Killer-Bob likes to stare at enemies he hangs with razor wire, watch the corkscrew turn through a guy’s tongue as he twists it, sit next to a dying foe while narrating to the foe how the next thirty seconds will kill him, and watch a bad guy slowly suffocate in a car being pumped with exhaust fumes. Why is this interesting? Denzel is so good with his performance that you aren’t sure if he is not enjoying the killings along with Bob. As the bodies piled up, I found myself wondering why Bob actively avoided picking up guns off people he just killed since it sure would make it easier to kill the rest of them rather than setting up semi-elaborate traps using pole-saws and microwaves. If that’s not enough, Bob seems to only be able to sleep after killing people and after visiting a friend from the mysterious agency they elude to, she informs the viewer that Bob didn’t go to them for help with his Russian problem, but, rather, permission to deal with it. It’s a fascinating character trait contradicting nice-guy Bob who is trying to read through the one-hundred-classic-novels-that-everyone-must-read that his wife didn’t finish.
As far as action movies go, The Equalizer is a pretty standard fare and doesn’t do enough with the other characters to make us care about anything. Alina disappears after Bob sees her in the hospital and doesn’t appear again until everything has been dealt with. We’ve already talked about Teddy, Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman make cameos, and the rest of the characters are fodder for either side. This movie is all about Bob, but, luckily, Denzel owns it.
Rating: Ask for two dollars back. As good as Denzel is, the movie is about 25 minutes too long and nobody needs to see that corkscrew in full IMAX detail.