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part of a small rebellion | 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

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • LaSargenta

    I remember The Equalizer. I watched the first episode or two precisely because of Woodward (who I had really enjoyed in Breaker Morant). It was laughable. Also, they desperately needed to hire someone for Continuity. I recall a car chase/escape scene where from the outside all the windows were up and unbroken and, inside, the person in danger was on the floor of the back seat to avoid bullets flying through open windows.

    Sounds like they didn’t put any more energy into this Pointless Remake™.

  • Danielm80

    He can’t sleep, you see…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)

    So they’ve remade The Equalizer as Taxi Driver?

  • No. Teri is barely a character here.

  • I remember liking the show back in the day, but I was a kid.

  • Danielm80

    “Hi, I’m Teri. Would you like to see my new painting? It’s a picture of my heart.”

    “That’s a lot of gold. Teri? Where’d you go?”

    “Aaah! I’m being violently abused by my pimp.”

    “I can help. I’m a professional badass.”

  • Aaron Jones

    I watched The Equalizer back in the day for precisely the two reasons you stated up front, Edward Woodward and that cool Stewart Copeland music. Way too bad that the filmmakers couldn’t hew closer to that blueprint. I was thinking the other day that this movie seems like simply a cross between Man On Fire and Eastern Promises.

  • Dr. Rocketscience
  • My first thought here was “Chloe Grace Moretz plays a hooker?! Isn’t she still a kid?” I checked on IMDb, and she turned 17 in February. Isn’t she a bit young for such a character? Please don’t tell me there is a sex scene with her, or even implied with her?

  • Bluejay

    Jodie Foster played a prostitute in Taxi Driver when she was 14.

  • Ok. That doesn’t change my thoughts on Moretz at all.

  • Bluejay

    What exactly is your problem? (Genuinely asking.) Is it that you think teenage hookers (who exist in real life) shouldn’t be portrayed onscreen? Or that they should be played by older actors pretending to be teenagers? Is it that you think 16/17-year-old actors shouldn’t have sex scenes, or just shouldn’t have sex scenes involving payment? Would you be okay if Moretz’ character just gets beaten up, as long as she doesn’t have onscreen sex?

    I’m not defending the film or the portrayal of the character, just wondering why your objection is tied to the actor’s age. Moretz strikes me as a mature actor who hasn’t shied away from serious and even scary roles.

  • David C-D

    I have similar memories. Plus, it had extra cachet because I wasn’t allowed to watch it (my father felt it glorified vigilantism).

  • quin

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

    Didn’t Spartan have sex trafficking plotline that was handled pretty well? I know they made it clear that the girl in question was at great risk, but I don’t recall any specific scenes that would have been considered demonstrably victimizing.

    Though, that was sort of the point of the movie; to show you as little as possible, say even less, and have you come away with a complete understanding of the events.

  • Beowulf

    Gosh, I was far from a kid, but I remember liking “The Equalizer” a lot at the time. I don’t recall the music, but then that’s the one area where writers like Stephen King lose me–I listened to rock but just didn’t get into music and lyrics all that much. If you enjoy Woodward’s work, you MUST see the restored version of THE WICKER MAN. For me, it’s his best performance.

  • I think if I saw the show again today, I would feel the same way about the vigilantism.

    I seem to recall liking it because it was a “grownup” show that I probably shouldn’t have been watching.

  • Mostly *Man on Fire,* very little *Eastern Promises.*

  • There are no sex scenes with Moretz. But I find it adorable that you think 17-year-old hooker is preposterous. In reality, it’s all too common.

  • To be fair to the movie, Moretz’s character doesn’t have anything like a sex scene, and her beating occurs offscreen.

  • I haven’t seen that movie since it was new a decade ago, so I can’t recall. I do recall that the protagonists of that film were men. Using women as plot pawns so that men get to do cool stuff and be heroes and have emotional journeys is the sort of victimization I was talking about, not necessarily scenes of onscreen violence. Bad stuff happening to women — even if it’s offscreen — in the furtherance of a man’s story. I’m sick of it.

    An excellent recent movie about sex trafficking with a strong, interesting, complex female protagonist is *Eden.* But that’s a tiny indie, not a studio film.

  • LaSargenta

    I had this idea that we were about the same age…

    Um, guess not.

    Of course, my parents argued with me about things I saw, but they didn’t refuse to let me see things if I was already aware and wanting to. So, I saw those paens to vigilante-ism Dirty Harry and Magnum Force (on tv) and The Enforcer (in the theater…same year as Star Wars!). My mother was very happy/relieved I had no interest in Porky’s. My father hated the fact I enjoyed the James Bond movies. Yup…argued about stuff, intellectual and otherwise. Probably the defining thing about my parents with each other and me.

    The Equalizer was a great disappointment because Woodward was so great in Breaker Morant and he was completely wasted in that show.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I suspect MarkD’s objection is to having a 17-year-old actress portray a prostitute of any age. Certainly there are 20-something actresses who can pass for mid-late teens (a fact that both the Disney Chanel and, disturbingly, the porn industry play on). I also wonder why a producer would invite the added strictures and scrutiny of hiring a minor to play such a role.

  • Pretty much that. Why not just have the actress be a few years older? Unless the age of the character plays a part in the story? I don’t know.

  • I’m hardly naive to the idea of a 17 year old hooker, as sad as it is. It’s Moretz that’s the issue for me. She just looks so young, and I still have this little girl image of her in my head from her other movies. Unless the age of her character comes into play in the story(does it?) I see no reason not to go with at least a slighter older actress.

  • Moretz HAS impressed me as an actress, but, as I said to Mary Ann in another post, I just wish they used someone older. Unless it’s an integral part of the story, which I doubt.
    I admit my reasoning isn’t very sound. This is purely me seeing Moretz as too young for such a role. Especially if she has to hook up with old ass Denzel. Yes, I know this happens in reality. I really didn’t think too deeply about it.
    I forget. Did the age of Fosters character feature in the story of taxi Driver? I imagine it did.

  • RogerBW

    Is this one of those things from “Save the Cat”? Give the hero some personal motivation, because otherwise the audience won’t relate to him?

    Moretz seems to be getting pigeonholed into playing damaged and broken women. (Not that there’s a shortage of such roles.) I hope she can break out of it.

  • quin

    Weren’t the only real two main female characters other than Bell a Sergeant and the woman who raised Bell? Both of whom are treated as realized characters, and prepared to do whatever they had to do, just like Kilmer’s character, to get her back?

    And while the offscreen stuff was certainly in the service of furthering a man’s story, I’d argue that it plays a big part in Bell’s growth as well.

    Still, as you said, it was ten year old movie. There should be more recent studio films that have tackled this subject in a way that doesn’t turn everyone without a penis into a victim of some kind. That would make the movie going experience better and more interesting for everyone.

  • I’m 45. So I was 16 when the show debuted. I seem to recall the show seemed extra gritty and adult to me. I could be misremembering.

  • Maybe the casting had to do with her talent. She’s an excellent actor in ways that few others her age can match.

  • I don’t recall her age being mentioned, but perhaps her youth is part of what is supposed to have moved McCall to help her.

    She’s not a little girl anymore, though. That’s your issue, not anything to do with her. :-)

  • She doesn’t hook up with Washington. There are no sex scenes in the film, only suggested ones happening entirely offscreen. There is nothing that the actress is required to do onscreen that worried me that it was a minor doing it.

    Yes, DeNiro’s rage in *Taxi Driver* was partly driven by his anger at her youth.

  • Unless she wants to play the “final girl” in a horror movie or the lovelorn girl in a rom-com, she’s not gonna get many options in Hollywood.

  • I cannot recall details of *Spartan* at this point. Sorry.

  • Matt Clayton

    It’s like a bad parody of Denzel Washington’s better films. All the points you made, especially the ‘film noir’ indoor sprinkle system at the end, and the pointless ultra-violence are absolutely on the money here. And worse, it drags on and on…

    There’s a better movie with Denzel playing a father figure to Terri rather than avenging and forgetting her until the very end.

  • So… more like The Recyqualizer? Right?


  • David

    “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.”

    I have a better idea. She gets violently abused then remembers she’s Hit Girl and kills the bad guys herself.

  • David

    They should have combined this and a Walk Among the Tombstones into one movie. We could have seen Denzel and Liam try to out-gruff and out-badass each other. Nicolas Cage could play the final boss.

  • joe

    this idiot reviewer is never gonna like films like this

  • joe

    Awesome film! Denzel was kick-ass, and i really enjoyed it!

  • Hiruy

    I think the movie rocked. And I think you’re being unfair. Did You see the movies that are coming out These says? This movie is worth watching.

  • Danielm80

    Box Office Mojo is estimating that 12,017,500 tickets to this movie were purchased. So now we know what close to 1/12,017,500th of the audience thought of the film.

  • Kielioss

    I do like this film, but your review is just fantastic and funny. It does seem like Antoine Fuqua wanted it to be like a Keanu Reeves movie, (Street Kings and John Wick to be precise) but just couldn’t kill two thugs with one pencil on this one.

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