If there was an award for the film that uses as many clichés as possible while still maintaining a stunning lack of knowledge of how anything works, that distinction would be held by The Equalizer. Denzel Washington stars in this action thriller that is not so much a movie, but a highlight reel of scenes we’ve seen done in better action movies of the past. Any tension that was intended quickly falls to the wayside as the audience realizes that we know exactly what is going to happen to each and every character because that’s what happened to that character in the last movie we saw them in. The only stunning thing to my eyes was that if you replace Denzel Washington with Cuba Gooding Jr. you could cut the budget by 40 million dollars and release it straight to DVD without changing anything else.
The film opens with Denzel Washington shaving in the dark. This is only the first scene that left me befuddled and it just continued from there. As we follow him throughout his day we’re meant to understand that he has a very specific routine which involves work, helping his chubby yet lovable friend lose weight, read a book while eating dinner at a diner, and never ever sleeping. The film’s MacGuffin appears at that diner played by Chloe Grace Moretz. She’s a prostitute with a heart of gold that really just wants to be a singer. Moretz and Washington strike up a hesitant familiarity over the untold number of times they frequent that diner and, wouldn’t you know it, Washington’s secret past resurfaces when Moretz is beaten to a pulp by her pimp and Washington must answer justice’s call.
The Equalizer is a re-teaming between Washington and director Antoine Fuqua who previously collaborated on Training Day, which is a far superior film and one I would gladly watch 100 times if I never had to watch this one again. Fuqua here directs the entire film using a color palette of black and off-black which does have the distinct advantage of never letting the viewer know what’s going on. Washington plays his character as a self-help and nutritional guru with MacGuyver like skills of making anything into a weapon and a superhuman ability to just shake off injuries and bullet wounds. Give him a cape and he’s essentially a sociopathic comic book character. Any semblance of nuance or subtlety that the pair showed on Training Day must have been lost in the conversation that included, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could do the whole walking in slow motion away from an explosion thing?”
It’s hard to describe exactly what kind of a train wreck this film is so I’m going to use a scene from the climactic battle at the end to illustrate my point. Washington’s character has killed everyone involved with the Russian gang that was pimping out Moretz earlier until they are forced to send in a special team of Russian super-thugs to attack him at the Home Depot knock off. During this scene Washington shuts the power off (again with the darkness) and shoves a couple of combustible canisters into the break room microwave. At a pivotal moment he turns the power back on and the microwave starts up and promptly explodes ignoring the fact that no microwave I’ve ever seen turns on as soon as it receives power. This is the kind of logic that the film is working with.
The Equalizer is less a movie and more of a contest of “Who’s agent failed the hardest?” After watching the film I immediately envisioned a scenario where screenwriter Richard Wenk, Antoine Fuqua, and Denzel Washington got together to discuss this script before production was to begin and decided to play a drinking game where they take a shot every time there is a scene that take took place in a different movie. They would all have alcohol poisoning by page ten and maybe their ailments would have spared us from them continuing on to make the actual film. Sadly it didn’t happen and the result is The Equalizer. Grade: D+