The Equalizer

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?”

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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+

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2 Guns

Look Ma! Even the double crosses have double crosses! 2 Guns is the kind of action thriller that is immensely enjoyable to watch even though there is nothing original going on whatsoever. The reason for this is entirely the charisma of the two leads, Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg and Denzel are just so charming throughout the film that I didn’t really mind that nothing actually happened. The obvious comparison is Bad Boys, with two action stars exchanging witty banter while trying to come out on top in the end. While this film might not be better than Bad Boys it can certainly stand next to it with pride.

Denzel Washington plays Bobby Trench, an undercover DEA agent trying to take down Mexican drug cartel leader Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos.) He has teamed up with Mark Wahlberg’s Michael Stigman who unbeknownst to him is an undercover Navy Intelligence Officer. A plan is put into place to rob a bank that contains Greco’s drug money so that the DEA will have something to pin on him. The plan doesn’t work out quite as predicted and the two make off with 43 million dollars. Unbeknownst to both of the them, the money was the CIA’s and not Greco’s. Now the CIA wants their money back, but unbeknownst to them there are now three other players involved. Stigman gets double crossed by Trench. Trench finally figures out who Stigman is. The DEA isn’t claiming Trench and the Navy has cut loose Stigman. Everyone is trying to find the money and loyalties last about as long as a two year old’s attention span. Jokes fly and action explodes as crosses are doubled and the plot eats itself.

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There is surprisingly little story here and the filmmakers are banking everything on the likability of the two leads. They are lucky because both actors have the charm on full blast. Washington and Wahlberg are finely-paired and play off each other exceedingly well. A perfection of the love/hate frenemy relationship of sorts. It was fun to watch them and in lesser hands the lack of a storyline would have been glaringly obvious.

The film is directed by Baltasar Kormakur who is extremely competent with the action set pieces and then gets out of the way to let his actors shine. There are good supporting turns in the film for Paula Patton as Trench’s partner and ex-lover, James Marsden as Stigman’s commanding officer, and Bill Paxton as the CIA’s hound dog. Paxton is especially effective and steals every scene he’s in. All around, the cast is effective and keep the film from falling in on itself.

There is a chance that 2 Guns will make a decent amount of money and then fade into obscurity which is a shame, because this is a solid and extremely watchable film. It certainly should hold up better than some of the other blockbuster fare we’ve been getting lately. (I’m looking at you Wolverine.) This was fun to watch and deserves on audience. Washington and Wahlberg use their charisma to good effect and even if it wasn’t the most original (or coherent) story I’ve seen it was well executed and held my attention for the running time. That’s really all I can ask for in a film like this. Action/comedies are everywhere but rarely do they have leads this good.

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