One of these movies, a former government operative played by Liam Neeson is going to walk into a 24-hour diner and sit across the table from a former government operative played by Denzel Washington, quietly slide a folder across the table to him and say, “I think we’re tracking the same guy.”
In the meantime, while Neeson is taking “A Walk Among the Tombstones,” Washington shows up as “The Equalizer,” and it’s a coin toss as to which you’d least like to meet in a dark alley. Either way, you’re toast.
(David Harbour plays a villain in “Tombstones” and “Equalizer,” but it’s two different characters in two different time periods. Nevertheless, good luck, David Harbour.)
Washington reunites with his “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua for “The Equalizer,” based on the 1980s series of the same name. This is a ridiculous, audacious, violent and did I mention ridiculous thriller, with Washington displaying superhero-level prowess when it comes to taking down a roomful of snarling, tattooed, heavily armed bad guys half his age. One minute they’re snickering and sneering at the old man, the next they’re scattered about the room like the remnants of a fireworks show.
Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk set the table quite nicely, thank you, with simple scenes of Washington’s Robert McCall going through his daily and nightly ritual. Late middle-aged, his head shaven, Robert works at a mega-store in Boston, where his younger co-workers speculate on what he did before he did this. “I was a Pip,” says Robert, as in a backup singer for Gladys Knight. They almost buy it.
At night, unable to sleep, Robert haunts a diner where he sips tea and reads books such as “The Old Man and the Sea.” This being a movie diner, there’s a pie-loving teen prostitute named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) who hangs out at the diner as well, and eventually she and Robert becomes friends.
Seeking to win Teri’s freedom, Robert casually strolls into the headquarters of her Russian pimp.
Let’s just say things don’t go well. And it goes down in a manner that would have Tarantino applauding.
A Russian oligarch sends his top fixer, “Teddy” (Marton Csokas, in a chillingly wonderful performance worthy of a Bond villain), to find out what the hell is happening in Boston.
Robert keeps his job at the warehouse and continues his mild obsessive-compulsive behavior (the exact same ritual every morning, a certain way of arranging tableware and napkins), but once he’s returned to his Equalizer ways, he fully embraces it. He’s almost like the Batman of Boston — taking down corrupt cops, tracking down the punks who robbed the store where he works, and systematically dispatching the hit men and the henchmen who try to take him out.
The extreme violence is punctuated by some much-needed humor, as when Robert confronts Teddy in a posh restaurant and they have a restrained conversation that might as well have subtitles saying, “I’m going to kill you!” “No, I’m going to kill YOU!” or when Robert mentors his overweight co-worker Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis), who has dreams of becoming a security guard if only he can pass the physical fitness exam.
We’re deep into the film before we learn the particulars of Robert’s past, but we can pretty much guess his deal after the first time he springs into action. He’s like an AARP version of Jason Bourne, only instead of trying to remember, he wishes he could forget.
Denzel Washington is of course a world-class movie star, and he brings all the gifts that make him great to the table, even when he’s smack-dab in the middle of an extended shootout scene so stylized it would have to be toned down for a graphic novel. “The Equalizer” features some gruesomely creative violence, but it’s equally memorable for the small, gritty moments set in that diner, or on the rough-and-tumble streets of Boston. And most of all, it’s got Denzel going for it.
Columbia Pictures presents a film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Richard Wenk. Running time: 128 minutes. Rated R (for strong, bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references). Opens Friday at local theaters.