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The Equalizer Leaves You Too Grateful that the Movie is Over to Question Denzel’s Choice in Projects

By Bob Garver

Sept. 29, 2014. “The Equalizer” is a story that we’ve seen plenty of times before. A former professional killer is trying to enjoy his new life in peace, but he can’t help but get sucked back into killing. I was hoping that the team of Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua (who directed Washington to an Oscar for “Training Day) would bring something new, or at least interesting to the table. For a short time, it looks like they’ve succeeded. But then slowly the opportunity slips through their fingers until the film seems to get away from them entirely. Unfortunately, this takes up much more time.

imgresThe film starts off expectedly, but compellingly. We’re introduced to Robert (Washington), a lower-manager at a home supply chain store. He has some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, often involving time in seconds. He’s friendly enough, even helping a buddy (Johnny Skourtis) train to become a security guard. He goes to a diner at night where he reads books and makes small talk with a prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz). It’s typical “establishing that he’s leading a peaceful life” material, but it’s elevated by Washington’s charisma and his chemistry with Moretz.

The action part of the movie has to kick into gear eventually, and it does so when the girl is beaten. Robert goes to her handlers to try and work out a deal for her to leave that life. The meeting does not end with a hearty handshake. The men Robert takes out are connected to the Russian mob, and now Robert is a target for assassination. A problem solver (Martin Csokas) is dispatched to solve the problem that is Robert.

The rest of the movie follows Robert as he single-handedly takes on the Russian mob. He deals with lower-level associates in short bursts with definite beginnings and ends that play almost like vignettes. Then there’s a messy climax at the glorified hardware store, at which point the film has officially squandered its early promise.

Even with some creative violence, the action scenes rarely come off as original. The first one is pretty cool, with Robert rigidly timing himself while he efficiently blazes through a room of bad guys. But most of the others are unimpressive. I’m especially referring to an interrogation scene where he manages to trap a guy in his car in a garage with the motor running and a hose pouring exhaust into the vehicle. That method might be scary in the real world, but by movie standards it’s pretty wimpy. As for the showdown in the store, the sequence does little more than rip off “Die Hard.” Actually, I take that back. It does more than rip off “Die Hard.” It also rips off “Home Alone”

The plot is overstuffed. The movie really wants to sell us on the story line with Robert and the wannabe security guard, but I never found it to be anything more than a time-waster. There’s also a well-publicized detour where Robert visits some old friends played by Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman. The cameos are pointless and serve only to pad the film’s cast. But nowhere does the story ramble more than at the end, with the drawn-out store showdown (there had to be at least four times where I was sure Robert was fighting the last henchman before Csokas), an awkward trip to Moscow and what feels like several final conversations.

It’s ironic that Robert puts so much emphasis on timing and quickness because he’s in a movie that badly needed to trim its running time. There’s a decent movie buried in “The Equalizer” but the longer it goes, the stupider it gets. By the end you’ll be wondering why Denzel Washington took this project at all. Or more realistically, you’ll be too busy being grateful that the movie is over to wonder about Washington’s choice in projects.

One and a half stars out of five.