I have a theory about The Equalizer.
If you've ever been unfortunate enough to be cornered by me at a cocktail party, you know I am a man of many theories. But this theory is about why, in 2014, Hollywood would sink $50 million into an adaptation of a third-rate TV show from the 1980s about Bob McCall, an ex-CIA agent who goes all Dirty Harry on New York City as a way to atone for his past sins committed in the service of The Company.
What's that, you say? You didn't know this Denzel Washington vehicle was a TV reboot? Isn't the whole idea of rebooting popular entertainment franchises from the past to capitalize on the brand recognition built up over the years, so as to save marketing money and cut through the audience's mental clutter in today's go-go internet world? So why bother rebooting a boring TV show no one remembers as a generic action thriller? Vigilante violence movies are a dime a dozen. Just pick a new title, give Washington a gun, and let the bad-guy blood flow.
- Chloë Grace Moretz and Denzel Washington in The Equalizer.
That's where the theory comes in.
The Equalizer movie exists because the real audience for this kind of project is not the audience, as in the public. It's a pitch designed to attract studio investment by appealing to the decision makers, who, at this point in time are rich white guys in their 40s and older. To that very small but very powerful audience, The Equalizer is gold. They're the ones who fondly remember the series, which starred Edward Woodward, an English actor who was 55 when the show premiered in 1985. My theoretical execs were teenagers back then, and things were so much simpler: the Russians were the bad guys, women knew their place, and an old man with a full head of white hair named Ronald Reagan took care of everything. But today's audiences, whom the execs must court, are so confusing and scary. "So, yeah," they say. "Let's make that Equalizer movie! Everybody loves The Equalizer!"
Seen through the lens of this theory, so many inexplicable Hollywood phenomena, such as the fiasco of the Battleship movie, make more sense. It certainly explains The Equalizer, which was supposed to star noted aging Australian actor Russell Crowe, who could at least sound like Woodward, but ended up starring a tired looking Washington rocking dad jeans like it was his job.
The movie opens with McCall working in a Home Mart, presumably because the Home Depot product placement deal fell through at the last minute. He's a stand-up guy whom everyone likes, but he is sad, because he is a widower with a dark past. So on nights when he can't sleep, he frequents a coffee shop where he befriends trashily dressed Russian prostitute Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz). But when he sees Teri get a life-threatening beat down at the hands of her pimp, he decides to get involved and use his CIA superpowers, which manifest themselves onscreen as CSI montages of Washington's bored eyes looking at stuff, to help her out. But just helping a much younger woman dress more modestly while proving the superior virility of older men isn't enough to build a movie around, so it turns out that the guys pimping this particular street hooker are big time Russian gangsters who call in the anti-Equalizer in the form of Marton Csokas, an ex-Spetznaz agent who calls himself Teddy. Hijinx, in the form of comfort violence for the go-to-bed-early set, ensue.
Teri, the woman who all of this trouble is supposedly for, completely disappears from the movie for an hour until returning, more modestly dressed, after the climactic set piece inside the Home Mart where McCall gets to do all of those ultra violent things with tools you fantasize about while you're in Home Depot. Or at least, I fantasize about them, which just goes to show that, as a guy who grew up in the '80s, I am in the target audience for this film. I only wish, like my theoretical Hollywood execs, I had the means to stop it from happening.