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The Help

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Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
The Equalizer (2014)

Proponents of above-average 1980s TV shows may recall a gruff and mysterious Edward Woodward in a stellar turn as shady agency-type Robert McCall meting out deserved vengeance on all manner of ne’er-do-wells. Its premise revolved around McCall — haunted by his past life — offering to put things right by helping those in need against forces of evil, in effect equalizing rights and wrongs. It was an interesting concept, legitimizing violent revenge by instilling its hero with a fierce moral compass. No wonder then that the show has been afforded a big screen adaptation, bought into the 21st century by “Training Day” tag team Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington.

Of course, Mr. Fuqua coaxed a tremendous award-laden performance from Mr. Washington in “Training Day”; and while Mr. Washington doesn’t scale those dizzying heights here, his modern-day McCall does prove an engaging melange of measured restraint and controlled lethality.

On the face of it, McCall is your regular joe, leading a nondescript, wholesome and regimented existence. Yet he’s a solitary and intriguing figure, an insomniac befriender of a troubled young prostitute Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz) whom he encounters on his midnight sojourns to the local diner. It’s clear that there’s more to him than a concerned father figure who recognizes her potential as something, anything other than what she is: namely a sex slave to Russian mobsters who effectively run the town.

Spurred into action by the evident injustice facing Teri, McCall methodically and brutally comes to life, dishing out some very precise and bloody justice to said Russian goons. Yet McCall’s inventive use of a corkscrew only serves to light the blue touch paper, as trouble-shooter Teddy (an impressively vicious Marton Csokas) flies in to settle up and preserve Muscovite head honcho Pushkin’s (Vladimir Kulich) corrupt operation.

Initially it’s suitably tense fare, as an air of mystery presides over McCall and his past; yet this soon gives way to almost risible stereotyping and trite dialogue along the way, for which scribe Richard Wenk must shoulder the majority of the blame. What transpires from hereon in is a fairly generic actioner that pits the calculating and sadistic Teddy and his assorted mob of identikit thugs and dodgy cops against lone-wolf McCall and his very particular set of skills.

Via a slightly flabby middle act, we’re treated to a final showdown at what one might pithily describe as “Home Alone”-base, during which McCall dispatches bad guys with ruthless efficiency via a combination of sand, a drill, some shears and other delights available at your local hardware store. It’s solid, if unspectacular fare, but that said “The Equalizer” is slick enough and frenetic enough to hold the attention; Mr. Fuqua at least has some creds in that department.

Mr. Csokas is the real standout, delivering a turn of such hateful intensity without ever resorting to the cliché that so afflicts his comrades. Mr. Washington impresses too, without ever getting out of second gear; while Ms. Moretz is somewhat wasted in what is essentially a beefed up cameo role.

There is scope here for a franchise, à la “Taken,” and the teasing nod to the original series famous line “Odds against you? Need help?” implies that might be on the cards, box-office dependent of course. In truth there are no real grounds for that; and if for nothing else this film’s graphic violence and dubious moral stance might have already put paid to that pipe dream before it’s even really begun.

THE EQUALIZER

Opens on Sept. 26

Directed by Antoine Fuqua; written by Richard Wenk, based on the television series created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim; director of photography, Mauro Fiore; edited by John Refoua; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production design by Naomi Shohan; costumes by David Robinson; produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Denzel Washington, Alex Siskin, Steve Tisch, Mace Neufeld, Tony Eldridge and Mr. Sloan; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 11 minutes. This film is rated 15 by B.B.F.C. and R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Denzel Washington (Robert McCall), Marton Csokas (Teddy), Chloë Grace Moretz (Alina, a k a  Teri), David Harbour (Masters), Haley Bennett (Mandy), Bill Pullman (Brian Plummer), Melissa Leo (Susan Plummer), Vladimir Kulich (Vladimir Pushkin) and Johnny Skourtis (Ralphie).

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