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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

The Equalizer movie review: recycled junk

The Equalizer red light

Yet another artifact of the long stagnation of Hollywood, which has been remaking the same movies over and over and over again for the past 30 years.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Do you remember the 1980s TV series The Equalizer, in which Edward Woodward played a mysterious former intelligence operative who did little private-eye vigilante jobs for people in trouble in New York City? No? Perhaps you remember the supercool electronic theme music (it was written by Stewart Copeland of The Police!)? Still nothing?

Never mind. Doesn’t matter. If this movie wasn’t entitled The Equalizer, you’d never guess it was meant to be a reboot of the series. That don’t mean it ain’t constructed of recycled junk! Nope, this is but one more artifact of the long stagnation of Hollywood, which has been remaking the same movies over and over and over again for the past 30 years.

Denzel Washington’s (2 Guns, Flight) McCall is a former professional badass of some unnamed (at least at first) sort who clearly misses his past life. As one does. We know this because even though he now works at a DIY big-box store he still lives his life with military precision: timing down to the second how long it takes him to eat his dinner, hospital corners on the bed you could bounce a quarter off, etc. A bed he never sleeps in, apparently. He can’t sleep, you see, because even though (fantasy alert!) he seems happy with his minimum-wage job, he isn’t following his own philosophy of “gotta be who you are in this world no matter what.” He relates this to — you’ll love this — a hooker with a heart of gold and the soul of an artist, Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz: If I Stay, Carrie), who also hangs out in the Edward Hopper Nighthawks diner McCall always finds himself in in the wee hours.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Now, the Boston that McCall exists in is a cesspit of crime and corruption. Those cops whom the Russian mob doesn’t have in its pockets are running protection rackets among the citizens they’re meant to be actually protecting. But McCall doesn’t even seem to notice, never mind care, until Teri gets beaten up by her Russian mobster pimp. Teri then all but disappears from the story, because she has served all the purpose she needs to serve — motivating a man and reinvigorating his spirit — by being violently abused. In fact, even her abusers will be more developed as characters than she ever is, and will get more screen time: from the pimp and his gang to the sent-from-Moscow fixer (Marton Csokas: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) who will battle McCall once the game is on, it’s somehow vitally important that we understand precisely how awful they are. You might think that simply saying “international sex trafficker” would do it, but it seems not.

This is probably so that the movie can feel justified in McCall’s grotesque precision in how he takes them out, one by one. It is a Hard Reality, you see, that men are bad in all these diverse and perverse ways, so Hollywood is totally justified in barfing up another vigilante badass to clean up the world.

*yawn* You know what would be badass? A movie about international sex trafficking that didn’t victimize women all over again.

I would say that this is not a work worthy of director Antoine “Training Day” Fuqua, except he’s been making a lot of junk lately (his previous flick was the appalling Die Hard wannabe Olympus Has Fallen, for pete’s sake). There’s nothing in the least bit surprising or unexpected or even mildly compelling here… except, maybe, how there’s neither enough drama not enough action to satisfy fans of either genre, nor even fans of the hybrid action-drama, and certainly nothing to justify the existence of an IMAX version of this movie. No, not even the slo-mo walk away from an explosion! The final outcome — I mean, even before the suggestion of a sequel — is in no dispute whatsoever. Set in the MacGyver heaven of McCall’s DIY store, the finale is a long slow slog through nameless bad-guy cannon fodder toward Denzel offing Marton in some inventive way (spoiler: it’s not even all that inventive, actually). Unlike no other action movie ever.

Though Fuqua does manage to make it rain — broken fire sprinklers! — indoors for some sexy noirish atmosphere. Unlike, you know, no other action movie ever.


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The Equalizer (2014)
US/Can release: Sep 26 2014
UK/Ire release: Sep 26 2014

MPAA: rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references
BBFC: rated 15 (strong bloody violence, sex references, strong language)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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