A remake of an 80s cop show doesn’t exactly sound like prime Denzel Washington material, until you remember it’s about a one-man A-Team who violently rights wrongs, and then it suddenly absolutely sounds like prime Denzel Washington material. Robert McCall (Washington) is a nice, quiet man with a nice, quiet job at a hardware superstore, who makes friends with a nice, quiet underage prostitute (Moretz). When she winds up in the hospital after a savage beating, McCall goes off the deep end by killing her pimp and all of his heavies. Turns out said pimp was pretty high up in the Russian mob, who then send over Teddy (Marton Csokas), a professional “cleaner” to remedy the situation.
Initially, it might feel like Washington has reteamed with director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) to vaguely remake Man On Fire (old guy gets revenge for young girl), but instead it’s more akin to the likes of Taken (turns out McCall has a particular set of skills) and A History Of Violence (man trying to play nice is dragged back into a world of assault and murder).
Washington is one of the few actors who can believably flit between old-school movie-star charm and new-school dead-eyed violence in a heartbeat, and it helps that Csokas actually delivers a properly threatening bad guy. On the flip-side, Moretz clearly got all of her scenes shot in about a day, but even she puts Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo’s screen-time to shame, as they rock up near the end of the movie as former intelligence agents with nothing to do but elongate the movie’s length.
At a good chunk over two hours, the film feels bloated and underwritten, but when McCall does gear up to his scenes of violent retribution, it’s really worth the wait. Not squeamish about his methods, everything from barbed wire to nail guns get used to take out the bad guys, and there is a satisfying snap and splatter to the fights and shoot outs that also harks back to its 80s roots.
Overall, Washington is a great actor and McCall is a complicated character, both of whom are stuck in a very basic movie. Denzel has never done a sequel before, but here’s hoping The Equalizer 2 gives him a bit more to do than just look glum while covered in someone else’s blood.