‘The Equalizer’ – Denzel takes on weapons of home improvement

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

All things being equal, Denzel Washington’s new movie, “The Equalizer,” gets things done.

Taking a page from the “Taken” playbook, Washington posits himself as a mild-mannered (on the surface) AARP-ready guy a la Liam Neeson’s recent career swerve into action heroism.

Not that Washington hasn’t flexed those muscles before — in movies like “Man on Fire,” “Safe House,” “2 Guns,” and more.

However, “The Equalizer,” is far more focused on the contrast between the regular-guy, who works as a manager at the local Home Mart  — hmm….yellow themed as opposed to orange —, and the supremely efficient killing machine, who scopes out his battlefield options much as Matt Damon did in “The Bourne Identity.” (Full Disclosure: I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff: corkscrew plus a man’s neck equals corkscrew in man’s neck.)

The picture is a kinda-sorta remake of a mid-80s TV series starring Edward Woodward as Robert McCall, a black-ops superstar who has — supposedly — settled into retirement. But it’s not so easy to retire a conscience, no matter how much time you spend coaching a lovable lug through a mini-Biggest Loser program so the kid can become a Home Mart security guard.

Part of McCall’s strict routine is dinner at a neighborhood diner (cue the Edward Hopper lighting) where he inevitably, compulsively lines up his silverware just so. Another regular is a baby-faced hooker (Chloe Grace Moretz) who changes wigs almost as much as she does customers.

But she is obviously not a happy hooker. When she’s savagely beaten by her pimp, a member of the Russian Mafia, McCall can’t help but help her.  The low-level, high-body-count slaughter that ensues (McCall dispatches a half dozen bad guys in under 30 seconds) wafts up through the ranks and rankles the Big Boss aka Pushkin (not the poet). He in turn dispenses his best enforcer, a neat-freak psychopath named Teddy (Marton Csokas).

After some verbal sparring (the best scenes in the picture and all too brief), the two square off in the vast emptiness of the Home Mart store where their usual artillery is augmented by hammers, drill bits, chainsaws, nail guns, etc.

Weapons of Home Improvement?

The director is Antoine Fuqua, who guided Washington to his second Oscar as the rabid bad cop in “Training Day.” Subtly isn’t his strong suit.

It hardly matters since subtly is the last thing “The Equalizer” is after.  If it doesn’t matter to you either, “The Equalizer” may be just the ticket.

Speaking of Weapons of Home Improvement, by sheer coincidence (or not), a small-scale film called “Good People” also opens this weekend. James Franco and Kate Hudson star as a couple who come across a huge cache of cash when the recluse renting their basement apartment keels over.

Rather than turn the money in, the financially strapped pair figure there’s no harm in using this unexpected windfall to pay off a few debts.

Wrong move.  There’s plenty of harm coming their way after various bad druggies and bad cops start sniffing around. It all leads to a confrontation in which the besieged couple set up a number of home-y booby traps (yes, hammers, screwdrivers, etc.) to save their skins (to their credit, nobody does the Macaulay Culken scream from “Home Alone” which, intentionally or not, the set-up echoes).

Full, albeit tardy, disclosure: as a fan of neither Hudson nor Franco, I was probably rooting for the wrong people. But if they or their movie were better, perhaps they would’ve come off as, well, the good people…

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

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