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THE EQUALIZER: 3 ½ STARS. “the old man gotta be the old man.”

img_18927_600At the beginning of “The Equalizer,” a remake of the cult 1980s television show, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) pontificates on “The Old Man and the Sea,” summing up Hemingway’s take on human nature.

“The old man gotta be the old man,” he says. “The fish gotta be the fish. Got to be who you are in this world no matter what.”

Of course this is a movie, so he’s actually talking about himself and not Ernest’s adversarial fisherman.

Washington plays a home improvement store worker by day, righter of wrongs by night. He’s a former black ops commando trying to leave his violent ways in the past but just when he thought that part of his life was over, the Russian mob leans on him because he tried to protect a young woman (Chloë Grace Moretz) from her violent pimp.

When he singlehandedly wipes out the east coast wing of the Russian mob Teddy (Marton Csokas), an enforcer from Moscow arrives to put an end to McCall’s one man search for justice.

“The Equalizer” is more elegant than Liam Neeson’s recent action movies but less viscerally satisfying. All the elements of Neeson’s Euro-trash thrillers are in place—tattooed bad guys and the “seasoned” hero with a “special set of skills”—but the pace is much slower.

The point of the story is that McCall equalizes situations, using his talents to help the down trodden but it takes about thirty minutes before any settling of scores happens. We meet McCall, learn about his orderly life—his shirts are immaculately pressed, he likes to read the classics and is particular about the placement of cutlery at his local diner—but we don’t learn anything about his past. He’s Denzel and ergo, a badass, but the first thirty minutes of this movie could have snapped things up a bit by illuminating his past.

The slow burn does build some tension, and by the time McCall unleashes hell on the Russia mobsters it comes as a bit of a catharsis. Now the movie is rolling! Except that it isn’t. It takes ages for McCall to open another can of whoop ass. Instead director Antoine Fuqua has elected to gradually build up to a wild showdown in a massive hardware store. Who knew those places were so dangerous? The climax is tense and inventive, apparently there is no home improvement device that cannot be turned into a WMD, but it is a more standard blockbuster-movie ending than you might expect from a movie so stingy with the action in the first hour.

It’s a good movie and Denzel is, as always, charismatic and interesting, but if “the old man gotta be the old man,” then “The Equalizer” gotta be more of an action movie to be completely satisfying.

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