A little while ago, there was a story that Will Ferrell was looking to remake the ’80s TV show Manimal. Now, even big TV fans would need a long memory to conjure up that particular TV show. Sadly, this writer does have such a memory. It starred Simon Mac Corkindale (Didn’t even have to look up the name, sports fans!) as a man who could turn into any animal to fight crime. Mostly it was a panther or a hawk, presumably for budget reasons. This ludicrous premise dragged along for eight episodes before being put out of its misery. And yet such is the nostalgia for all things ’80s we may now be getting a new film based on it. It is a strange time to be a viewer of media. As old TV shows are plumbed for movie remakes, we are also getting old movies being used as jumping off points for new TV shows (Fargo, Psycho prequel Bates Motel). All of this is a way of saying that in Hollywood’s relentless pursuit of anything old to resurrect, nothing is sacred.
Fresh off the Hollywood nostalgia presses comes The Equalizer, a movie version of a TV show you barely remember. In some ways it doesn’t really matter. (Incidentally, because of The Wolf of Wall Street, the first association in this writer’s head when thinking of The Equalizer is of Rob Reiner going apoplectic when a phone call interrupts his watching of the show. His answering of the phone in a polite faux English accent is the brilliant punchline.) Instead of the formidable Edward Woodward we get that most reliable of actors, Denzel Washington, in the role of Robert McCall, a man with the ubiquitous shady past now living a Zen-like existence. He works in a large hardware store and spends his sleepless nights in a coffee shop straight out of a Hopper painting. Into his life comes Lena (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young prostitute who is having some troubles with her Russian pimp. It was nice of the film to update the story complete with classic ’80s villains: the Russians. It may well be a comment on the villainy of Putin so we will give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt. After Lena is badly beaten, McCall discovers the gang congregating as criminal gangs do and manages to destroy them in about half a minute. The Russians are not one bit happy about this and they dispatch nut job Teddy (Marton Csokas, scarily convincing) to go after McCall.
Now up to this point, all of this is fine. It is almost defiantly by the numbers for sure, but fine. There is a genuine sadness to McCall in the beginning and it is effectively played by Washington. The ‘save the prostitute’ angle has been done to death and Moretz sure ain’t no Jodie Foster, but its heart is in the right place. These are clichéd stakes, but they are stakes nonetheless. The main problem is what comes after. Moretz is forgotten completely by the film until the main story is over thus robbing it of any real drama. The action scenes become increasingly absurd with McCall taking down an army’s worth of Russians on his own. Washington looks in great shape and we know McCall has some sort of black ops background, but the man is pushing 60, he is on his own and there are A LOT of bad guys.
There are some enjoyable moments throughout. Melissa Leo and the always-welcome Bill Pullman pop up for the briefest of cameos and the action sequences are fairly well-done. Director Antoine Fuqua knows his way around high concept nonsense (Olympus Has Fallen) but with any sense of drama forgotten about, the relentless action becomes dulling (he also directed Washington to an Oscar in their previous collaboration, Training Day). There is no doubt whatsoever about the outcome and we duly arrive at it with a large Home Alone-style action scene in the hardware store that quickly becomes boring. Add to this a tacked on and very silly epilogue and you have the recipe for the sequel to a film that this reviewer lost interest in an hour beforehand. The Equalizer is as slick and empty as these types of films can be but becomes as tiresome as the worst of them usually are. Washington is always worth a watch but maybe wait for it to turn up on TV. Who knows, the film may well be a jumping off point for a new TV show. And so on.