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The Equalizer

It’s been a good month for fans of adult crime dramas, what with The Drop and A Walk Among the Tombstones. The Equalizer makes for a trilogy that forms several continuums: budget, star power, character development verses special effects, and of course box office potential. It’s the least successful of the three films, though likely to be the biggest hit, and probably plays better than it ought to if you’ve let the other two warm you up for this kind of thing.

The title is taken from the 1980s TV show that starred Edward Woodward as a retired intelligence operative who hires himself out to people who need some help against life’s villains. But forget about that; any resemblance is purely to pacify the lawyers.

Denzel Washington stars as Bob, a self-composed fellow who works at a Home Depot clone. Most of what we know about him comes from a clever opening shot—a man of orderly habits who makes his bed with military precision.

In the mode of comic book adaptations, we have encountered our hero before he is what we know he will become. Bob is a capable man who helps out his co-workers when he can. At the local diner where he spends sleepless evenings he occasionally chats with a not-very-happy hooker (Chloë Grace Moretz). Learning that she has been badly beaten by her pimp, he decides that something needs to be done about it.

And so he does something. But for every action there is a reaction, and in short order Bob is taking on pretty much the entire Russian mafia.

Did I say “short order”? That would imply that this movie is more economical than it is. As directed by the less-than-subtle Antoine Fuqua (Olympus is Down), The Equalizer is best in its opening reels. They might move slowly, and be too self-consciously pictoral (yes, Antoine, we get that you like Edward Hopper), but they’re controlled and pleasing. Washington of course is the definition of a movie star, someone you’re compelled to look at even when he’s not doing anything. He does a lot of nothing in the first half of the movie, and very well.

But once Fuqua and writer Richard Wenk start amping things up, they don’t know when to stop. We get only the slightest peek into Bob’s background, certainly not enough to explain why he has chosen to live in such an out of the way fashion. And he goes from capable (which is always interesting) to invincible (much less so). When he needs to blow up a gas tanker to let the Russians know not to mess with him, the film doesn’t even bother showing us how he does it; we just get the climax shot of him walking away from a massive fireball that shakes Boston harbor. Several scenes in which he scopes out a roomful of antagonists and analyzes how he’s going to take them out are less reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes than The Terminator. It’s fun as far as this kind of thing goes. Unfortunately, it just keeps going until we’ve been as beaten into submission as the bad guys.

Opens Friday at Flix, Maple Ridge, Regal Elmwood, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit, Regal Walden Galleria, Sunset Drive-In, Transit Drive-In

Watch the trailer for The Equalizer

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