By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s brutal, it’s grisly, and it’s kind of ridiculous.

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But y’know what? Denzel Washington makes it work.

(2½ stars out of 4)

(2½ stars out of 4)

All things being equalized, The Equalizer could have used a more grounded technical advisor. But the leading man needs no help.

The Equalizer is a restored-justice thriller based on the action-adventure television series with the same title that ran from 1985 to 1989, starring Edward Woodward as the title character, a former government agent who operated as a pro-bono avenger.

The movie version is a vigilante fantasy starring Washington as retired intelligence officer Robert McCall, who offers himself as what might be described as a guardian angel.  Here’s a vigilante seeking justice for the helpless.

The most obvious new wrinkle in the transition from small screen to large in this origin story, besides the change in venue from New York to Boston, is the moderate obsessive-compulsive disorder that McCall suffers from.

McCall is a preternaturally, and almost preposterously, resourceful combatant, employing not conventional weapons but whatever ordinary objects are within reach.

He’s smarter, faster, sneakier, and stronger than anyone he goes up against (his lack of vulnerability perhaps inevitably limiting the suspense quotient) as he defends those who cannot defend themselves.

He’s also a childless widower, a voracious reader, and a helpful employee at a home/hardware superstore called “Home Mart,” and he comes to the aid of a young prostitute, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, when she is severely beaten by Russian mobsters.

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We piece together McCall’s past through a series of flashbacks as he embarks on a number of hand-to-hand combat scenes with Russian gangsters and corrupt Boston cops.

An action thriller this may be, which would seem to suggest the underemployment of an actor of Washington’s depth and crafty skill.  But credit his natural and seemingly effortless presence and charisma and authority for allowing him to bring a character to life that could easily have parked there like a beached whale.

Director Antoine Fuqua seems to delight in the barbaric, lavishing more time and energy on scenes of retributive violence than they deserve:  they start over the top and, in terms of excess, ascend exponentially from there, seeming to linger on each villain’s dying breath.

But the best stretch of his film is the opening reel, before the landslide of violent confrontations begins.  It’s a quiet, confident, absorbing opening that makes a promise that the film to follow never quite lives up to.

Later, Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman contribute cameos as former colleagues of McCall’s, while Martin Csokas plays the menacing Russian fixer, a worthy homicidal antagonist.

The last collaboration between director Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen, Tears of the Sun, King Arthur, Brooklyn’s Finest) and Denzel Washington in 2001’s Training Day resulted in a best-actor Oscar for Washington.  That won’t happen this time, but it’s Washington who relocates that scenario from the impossible to the improbable.

Is this to be an action franchise for Denzel Washington as Taken has become one for Liam Neeson?  The ending certainly seems to point that way.

So we’ll avenge 2½ stars out of 4.  We’ll soon see whether the ferocious star vehicle The Equalizer is also a sequelizer.

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