Antoine Fuqua gave Denzel Washington one of his greatest roles as the sly but vicious bad cop Alonzo Harris in “Training Day,” which won Washington his Best Actor Oscar. He’s spent the years since making flashy but dumb thrillers like “Shooter” and “Olympus Has Fallen.” Surely a reunion between Fuqua and Washington could be a return to form?
Alas, no. Early reviews for “The Equalizer” (an adaptation of the Edward Woodward-starring vigilante show) aren’t all negative, with some getting a kick out of the combination of Washington’s gravitas and hard-edged violence. But most critics have found the film too dopey to take seriously and too glum to have much fun with. Washington’s work in particular has been received as a disappointment: he’s an actor who’s seemingly incapable of being bad, but here he’s less the steely-eyed enforcer Woodward played and more your average brooding action hero. “Training Day” fans: measure your expectations.
“The Equalizer” hits theaters September 26.
A.A. Dowd, The A.V. Club
Excellent actor that he is, Washington pumps a little poignancy into those early scenes, before shifting into stoic, unflappable avenger mode once the bodies start hitting the floor. The role is just beneath him, and the movie, based on an ’80s television series, is worse—a kind of superhero origin story invested with half-assed gravitas. Though no one actually refers to him as The Equalizer on-screen, Robert quickly earns that silly moniker, adopting the pointless affectation of timing his bone-breaking rampages with a stopwatch. Blessed with the fighting skills of Batman, the magical perceptiveness of Sherlock Holmes, and the nonexistent mercy of The Punisher, this badass Samaritan is basically unstoppable—and so watching him dispatch the various thugs that threaten his friends or simply drift into his line of vision becomes boring quickly. Read more.
Kate Erbland, Film School Rejects
Although “The Equalizer” is gifted with a relatively straightforward story (guy sees wrongs committed by evil-doers, guy corrects those wrongs by exacting revenge on said evil-doers), Richard Wenk’s muddy script piles on superfluous additions and convoluted subplots, and the film slowly loses sight of what it’s meant to be about. While Teri’s brutal beating is the inciting incident – and Robert seems bent on specifically exacting revenge the bad guys responsible – the eponymous Equalizer randomly sets about correcting other unsettling situations perpetrated by bad people. Even Teri, the one person Robert seems compelled to protect, drops off the radar after the first act, with Moretz vanishing so completely that audiences may wonder if they missed something in the narrative. Read more.
Drew McWeeny, HitFix
Honestly, if the point of the film is that this someone who helps people who can’t help themselves in any way, the various people he helps in the film are a fairly lousy line-up. I like Chloe Grace Moretz as a performer, but she is profoundly miscast here as a downtrodden Russian hooker who sets off Washington’s sympathies. Moretz is simply too strong, too well put-together, too unbroken for the character to work. It would help if there was something more to the script, but she’s stuck doing all the heavy lifting, and she’s the wrong person to do it. Read more.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist
Cartoonishly violent, “The Equalizer” is both occasionally entertaining and frequently tedious. And forget theme, allegory or subtext beyond righting wrongs and revenge. There is one lost opportunity of reflection in the picture too. Washington takes a trip to visit former CIA colleagues (Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo). Instead of using this tangent to explore the consequence of his actions, violence, or even question the nature of his deeply dark side, the sequence is simply used to reveal McCall’s past. Read more.
James Rocchi, The Wrap
The film’s script might be a little on the nose with its metaphors, and there are a few moments of action that verge on self-parody, right down to the familiar trope that cool guys don’t look at explosions as they walk away from them. But at the same time, seeing Washington reunited with his “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua is reason enough to celebrate, as well as the film’s resolutely R-rated violence and its moody, Boston-based urban noir look and feel. Read more.
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York
“The Equalizer” is a stone-dumb movie, unwilling to allow Washington even a hint of uniqueness (apart from the usual silverware straightening and public book reading, shorthand clichés for “smart”). The guy doesn’t need to stand out, because unlike the Reagan-era TV show on which this movie is based—a slick cross between “Miami Vice” and “Death Wish”—Washington’s Robert has no weakness, no personal stakes, no grown-up children to apologize to. All he has in director Antoine Fuqua’s tedious action film are interchangeable Russian scumbags to impale, and impale them he does (one with a wine corkscrew). Read more.
Scott Tobias, The Dissolve
The shame of “The Equalizer” is that it’s a sour reunion between Fuqua and Washington, the “Training Day” team that won the latter a richly deserved Oscar. Washington plays a monster in the earlier film, an L.A. narcotics officer mutated by corruption, but his performance made it possible to imagine a time when he might have been like his officer-in-training, played by Ethan Hawke. McCall’s past in “The Equalizer” is opaque—he’s a childless widower who harbors some regret for a history of violence, but that’s about it—and his ascetic lifestyle and badass reserve prevent the audience from understanding anything about him, even with an actor of Washington’s caliber in the role. Read more.