Action by Numbers

The Equalizer is just another formulaic action movie that even Denzel can't save

Action by Numbers
Denzel is out for revenge.

Do you remember the 1980s TV series The Equalizer, in which Edward Woodward played a mysterious former intelligence operative who did little private-eye vigilante jobs for people in trouble in New York City? No?

Never mind. Doesn't matter. If this movie wasn't entitled The Equalizer, you'd never guess it was meant to be a reboot of the series. That doesn't mean it's not constructed of recycled junk. This is but one more artifact of the long stagnation of Hollywood, which has been remaking the same movies over and over and over again for the past 30 years.

Denzel Washington's McCall is a former professional badass of some unnamed (at least at first) sort who clearly misses his past life. As one does. We know this because even though he now works at a DIY big-box store, he still lives his life with military precision: timing down to the second how long it takes him to eat his dinner, hospital corners on the bed you could bounce a quarter off of, etc. A bed he never sleeps in, apparently. He can't sleep, you see, because even though (fantasy alert!) he seems happy with his minimum-wage job, he isn't following his own philosophy of "gotta be who you are in this world no matter what." He relates this to — you'll love this — a hooker with a heart of gold and the soul of an artist, Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), who also hangs out in a diner where McCall always finds himself in the wee hours.

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

Now, the Boston that McCall exists in is a cesspit of crime and corruption. Those cops whom the Russian mob doesn't have in its pockets are running protection rackets among the citizens they're meant to be protecting. But McCall doesn't even seem to notice, never mind care, until Teri gets beaten up by her Russian mobster pimp. Teri then all but disappears from the story, because she has served all the purpose she needs to serve. In fact, her abusers will be more developed as characters than she ever is, and will get more screen time: from the pimp and his gang to the sent-from-Moscow fixer (Marton Csokas) who will battle McCall once the game is on, it's somehow vitally important that we understand precisely how awful they are. You might think that simply saying "international sex trafficker" would do it, but it seems not.

This is probably so that the movie can feel justified in McCall's grotesque precision in how he takes them out, one by one. It is a Hard Reality, you see, that men are bad in all these diverse and perverse ways, so Hollywood is totally justified in barfing up another vigilante badass to clean up the world.

*yawn* You know what would be badass? A movie about international sex trafficking that didn't victimize women all over again. ♦

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    Maryann Johanson

    Maryann Johanson