How is it possible to go wrong with a movie like The Equalizer? Based on a successful 1980s TV series (a vehicle for the great British actor Edward Woodward) this new film stars Denzel Washington as an everyman action hero who takes on the Russian mob and wins. He's a vigilante who defends the poor and helpless — against vicious gangsters. It's a perfect, emotive pulp adventure setup and Denzel is ideal for the part.
So, what's not to like? Well, unfortunately, the movie is a mess. It goes hopelessly off the rails in the very first major action scene. Denzel confronts an evil Russian pimp, and offers to buy out the contract of a teenage hooker whom Denzel has befriended (he and the girl frequent the same late night Edward Hopper style diner, in the best scenes of the film).
Of course, the evil Russian says no and Denzel slays him and all his minions. (Denzel is an average Joe who works in a deadend job at a Walmart clone, but naturally he turns out to be a black ops intelligence super-soldier.) Now, there is nothing wrong with Denzel despatching all these Ruskies. It's the raison d'être of such a film. What is wrong is how he does it.
The first evil Russian minion he kills has a gun, and the unarmed Denzel takes it away from him, using his martial arts skills. Does Denzel then use the gun to kill the others? Nope. He discards the gun and picks up a corkscrew. Because that's way more interesting. And similar insanity pervades the rest of the film, with him killing bad guys using a microwave oven, an electric drill, a Gutenberg bible, the Large Hadron Collider... Okay, I lied about the last two, but you get the picture.
And Denzel is supposed to be a professional, with military training. This is deeply nonsensical stuff, and it helps to sink this deeply silly film. The Equalizer may be a big hit, but it's total junk.
If you want to see this sort of thing done right, watch the magnificent TV series Person of Interest.
(Image credits: All the posters are from Ace Show Biz. And don't be fooled by the gun Denzel is holding, in the movie he uses a drill.)