[Screen It]


(2018) (Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal) (R)

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Action: A former government covert op sets out to find who killed his friend and then acts as a one-man judge, jury, and executioner while doing out his comeuppance and justice.
Robert McCall (DENZEL WASHINGTON) is a former government covert op who long ago let everyone believe he perished during an assignment and has since lived a low-key life, save for when he uses his special set of skills to help those in need and deal with various bad guys. Working as a Lyft driver, he's become friends with Holocaust survivor Sam Rubinstein (ORSON BEAN) while also becoming a mentor of sorts to Miles (ASHTON SANDERS), a young art student who could easily succumb to the pull of becoming a gang member.

But Robert has bigger issues to contend with when his friend and former work associate, Susan Plummer (MELISSA LEO), is murdered while investigating a double homicide in Brussels, leaving her author husband, Brian (BILL PULLMAN), a widower. Seeing out the help of his former work partner Dave York (PEDRO PASCAL) -- who thought he died all those years ago -- Robert sets out to figure out who's responsible for the murder and then deliver his own form of comeuppance and justice while serving as his own one-man judge, jury, and executioner.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
There's the old saying about "go big or go home" and while I understand and often agree with that sentiment, sometimes it's best and wisest to keep thing smaller and simpler. Proof positive of that is "The Equalizer 2," the sequel to the 2014 action film where Denzel Washington starred as a retired government special ops agent. Despite trying to lead a low-key life, he couldn't help but use his Liam Neeson skills (you know, that special set that's revealed and effectively and efficiently used as needed) to help those in trouble or who are picked on by more powerful people.

While derivative and likely headed to the straight to video dustbin (or at least B-level movie) without the veteran actor's presence and performance, the fun was watching Robert McCall set the timer on his watch and then dispatch the bad guys within a set amount of time. And the ending, set in a big box hardware store, was stupid yet clever and over the top fun as we watched the former op use a wide variety of household tools and such as his arsenal.

In this sequel -- the first for both Washington and returning director Antoine Fuqua in their long, respective careers -- we're immediately introduced to the notion that the scope here is going to be bigger than last time. Set on a train in motion in Turkey, Washington's character doles out his justice to deal with a thug and his goons who've kidnapped the man's daughter just to get back at his ex. Despite the setting and potential for a grandiose, Bond type opening, Fuqua -- working from a script by Richard Wenk -- keeps the action pinned down to just that one train car (and yes, the watch setting bit remains intact).

Things then move back to the states where McCall has given up his hardware store gig (I guess it's hard to keep such a job when you kill a bunch of bad guys in the workplace) and now works as a Lyft driver befriending folks such as Holocaust survivor and retirement home resident Sam (Orson Bean). But he must also contend with less uplifting rides, such as when a rich young jerk puts an obviously drugged young woman in his car. All of which means it's time to dole out some comeuppance toward that man and his friends (and thus provide cathartic enjoyment for viewers) in his signature style.

On the home front, he's become something of a mentor to a young man (a good Ashton Sanders) who could either stay on the straight and narrow as an art school student or be lulled over into a life of drug operation gangster-dom. It's in those smaller moments where the film works best (as interspersed with brief bits of highly stylized action violence), and Washington milks those scenes for everything they're worth in his wise, "been around the block a few times" signature style.

Alas, the go big call seemingly can't be ignored and all involved head down the path of international murder (actually murders), "good" guys who turn out to be bad (shock of all shocks), and a big action finale set in a seaside town that's been evacuated due to a hurricane that's literally and metaphorically storming the coast. And that's where the film loses its way.

It begins with a murder in Brussels that the draws the interest of CIA agents Susan (Melissa Leo) and Dave (Pedro Pascal). The latter worked for years as Robert's partner but has since believed he perished during an assignment, while the former is aware of the ruse and has remained friends with her former colleague. When the bag guys get nervous about the snooping around and want to clean up loose ends, they kill the wrong person.

All of which sets our hero into motion and the film down the misguided bigger is better path and "let's throw in a hurricane" finale. While I was involved in the smaller, intimate moments and brief bursts of action earlier in the film, the third act did absolutely nothing for me once those initial qualities have blown away in the storm. In short, it sort of ruins the material that preceded it and makes you long for the smaller scale -- and smarter -- moments.

Not horrible but something of a film that trips over itself and falls hard toward the end, "The Equalizer 2" needed its protagonist's watch to keep things from having too much time to get out of hand while trying to go big. It rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 16, 2018 / Posted July 20, 2018

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