Why should Liam Neeson have all the fun? Denzel Washington promisingly launches his own senior action franchise in “The Equalizer,” starring as a lethally skilled CIA agent who comes out of retirement to rid Boston of the Russian Mafia.
Washington, who turns 60 in December, vividly demonstrates that he won’t be ready for “The Expendables” team of has-beens anytime soon in this enormously entertaining, lavishly mounted extravaganza that, incidentally, puts Neeson’s “Taken” series to shame.
Antoine Fuqua, who directed Washington to a Best Actor Oscar for “Training Day” 13 years ago, serves up Tarantino-caliber action sequences in this slam-bang thriller loosely inspired by the 1980s TV series of the same name with Edward Woodward.
Bald and graying at the temples, Washington plays Robert McCall, a softspoken and kindly manager at an enormous Home Depot — er, Home Mart — that will eventually handily serve as the location for the film’s breathtakingly spectacular denouement.
When a Russian pimp severely beats up a prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz) whom Robert regularly encounters at his favorite coffee shop after work, Washington decides to dust off his old skills to settle the score with her tormentors.
There’s nothing hugely original about the script by Richard Wenk (who cowrote “Expendables 2” with Sylvester Stallone), but Washington is a master at putting his own inimitable and stylish spin on even the most familiar situations.
Marton Csokas makes a splendid heavy as the scary fixer the Russians send to stop Washington’s one-man mob-wrecking crew — after Robert invades a restaurant and makes quick work of Moretz’s beaters.
Our quick-witted hero always stays one step ahead of Csokas, escaping repeated traps while methodically taking down dirty cops on the Russkies’ payroll.
In one bravura sequence, he singlehandedly shuts down their money laundering operation.
And, rest assured, Robert won’t stop until he gets the Moscow oligarch who is pulling the strings — though Washington’s former CIA boss (Melissa Leo), who thought he was dead, assures our hero the head Russian is considered “untouchable” by the Company.
The pulse-pounding pace never flags over two hours, even when Washington is given quieter moments to demonstrate how he’s become a thinking man’s senior action hero.
It’s the latest chapter in a remarkable career that began with a bit part as a teenage mugger blown away by Charles Bronson in “Death Wish” 40 years ago.
Sometimes quite graphic, “The Equalizer” doesn’t sanitize its violence, as so many films do these days, but the mayhem isn’t gratuitous or unmotivated.
The opening chapter in this new revenge franchise is good enough to restore your faith in the much-abased genre — and a lot of fun in the bargain.