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At 59, Denzel Brings the Pain in 'The Equalizer'

Washington and his 'Training Day' director amp up the violence in the new action thriller.

Columbia

The reunion of Denzel Washington and his Training Day director, Antoine Fuqua is scored to the wince-inducing sounds of flesh on flesh, bullets on flesh, knives on flesh, barbed wire on flesh... you get the picture. The Equalizer is Washington's most violent film since 2004's Man on Fire and it finds the 59-year-old actor doing many of the things a young Arnold Schwarzenegger used to do. Washington plays a fine-tuned killing machine and the performance is lots of fun, even if the movie itself is devoid of any smarts or originality.

Denzel Crushes Fools in Derivative 'The Equalizer'
Columbia

The best sequence in The Equalizer is the end. Fuqua does a fine job ratcheting up the tension until the final showdown and it plays out like Predator does (and Home Alone for that matter) with the hero setting gnarly traps for the enemy. The creativity of the violence is brutal fun for action fans, but those with a weak stomach may want to pass. Shot glasses smash into eye sockets, limbs are snapped like breadsticks, and there are countless gunshot wounds and cut throats. 

Why all the violence? Robert McCall (Washington), an ex-Special Forces hero, decides to give up his quiet civilian life working at a Home Depot-type place to take on the Russian mob in Boston. He becomes friendly with a young hooker (Chloe Moretz) at his local diner hangout and he doesn't appreciate the way her pimp boss slaps her around. McCall wipes out the dude's entire operation, which grabs the attention of the bosses in Moscow and they send a ruthless, tattooed psycho named Teddy (Marton Csokas) to find the killer.

The rest of the film plays out as expected as Teddy draws ever closer to discovering McCall's identity. Meanwhile the hero is doling out his own brand of justice, one time on a stick up kid who robs the Home Depot in broad daylight. Authenticity is not what The Equalizer is going for. Characters exist so Washington can pummel them and, to a man, almost every one is a cliche of some kind. Moretz is the prostitute with a heart of gold, her boss is the vicious foreign gangster, and McCall has an assortment of seemingly unnecessary friends who conveniently come into play later on. 

Denzel Crushes Fools in Derivative 'The Equalizer'
Columbia

Washington lends The Equalizer every ounce of credibility it has. There's nothing about this movie worth seeing other than Washington beating people. He and Liam Neeson (A Walk Among the Tombstones) are proving great actors can truly heighten bad action movies with their presence alone. Neeson and Washington pull off these invincible characters because they're that good. It's not a fluke. Scores of other actors would tank a movie like The Equalizer because they don't bring the integrity Washington does. 

Plus, Washington is just fantastic playing the "aw-shucks-you-insulted-me-and-i'm-going-to-kill-you-for-it" strong and silent type. You want to root for him. McCall's moral code leaves little room for mercy and Washington dispenses it with fervor. Fuqua helps with quick cuts and stylized editing that makes every punch sizzle with danger. There's one fight where McCall crushes a Russian dude's head against a glass table and, just for a half-second, we get the under the table point of view as it happens. The effect is startling and, for pure action entertainment, thrilling.

So while The Equalizer mails it in script-wise, (Moretz actually says, "Someone once told me I could be anything I wanted to be.") the action is what we pay for and the action delivers. Washington is as compelling as ever and he's now attached to a franchise that has the potential for big money (the sequel is already planned). So while detractors will point to the Hollywood machine and the neverending trend of recycled script work, take solace in the fact Denzel Washington is just great at kicking everyone's collective asses. 

Denzel Crushes Fools in Derivative 'The Equalizer'
Columbia

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