The Equalizer 3′ Doles Out Vengeance, Italian-Style
“The Equalizer 3” starts with an old man and child returning to a Sicilian vineyard already littered with dead bodies. Clearly, grandpa ain’t walking into a surprise party. Nor is the audience. “3qualizer,” as I’m calling it, doles out more of the same set pieces we’ve come to expect from the blood-soaked series. As fussy former Defense Intelligence Agency revenge-bot Robert McCall, Denzel Washington walks into rooms of very mean dudes, lectures them about the tactical mistakes they’ve already made that will soon cost them their lives, sets a timer on his watch, and then kills the everliving bejesus out of them with whatever’s laying around.
A particular franchise favorite is slamming a head into a glass table so that the camera can shoot the sickening thunk from below. If that sounds like your kind of thing, stop reading this and buy a ticket. Fussier action fans who like a well-crafted story should read on.
The movie doesn’t answer why McCall is in Italy at the beginning. He’s there to retrieve something the wine-y Italian thugs stole. Before we can find out what that is, he kills more Sicilians than arterial sclerosis and then basically lets a child shoot him in the back. It’s a really stupid and not very believable decision for McCall that kind of undermines an otherwise effective and grisly opening action scene. Leaving McCall’s client and mission hanging provides a framing device for the rest of the movie that I found transparent and annoying but the ooh-ing and aah-ing audience seemed to disagree with me.
THE EQUALIZER 3 ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Richard Wenk
Starring: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Eugenio Mastrandrea, David Denman, Remo Girone
Running time: 129 min
A kindly doctor named Enzo (Remo Girone) and a friendly but cowardly Carabinieri officer (Eugenio Mastrandrea) nurse McCall back to health. He’s convalescing in a somehow tourist-free town on the Amalfi Coast that mob jerks repping the Camorra crime syndicate are hassling. The town looks like a bat cave eating the gondola ride at The Venetian and the Camorra plans to beat the residents out of their homes so that they can build actual casinos there. This thrusts McCall into the well-worn “mysterious stranger who stands up to the town bullies” trope that has fueled pretty much every western and most of the Equalizer series.
If you aren’t hip to the whole Equalizer thing, it started with a 1980s CBS show starring Edward Woodward as an ex-spy who advertised revenge services in the classified section of the newspaper. “Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer: 212 555 4200.” The original show fell into the “Death Wish”-y traditions of urban paranoia grindhouse, as evidenced by its very ‘80s opening credits with undershirted rapists lurking in every Big Apple elevator and subway station. It was more intelligent than its opening credits made it seem, all while delivering dirtier action than the “Murder, She Wrote”-style shows of its time.
There’s a current TV Equalizer that started in 2021 with Queen Latifah kicking the crap out of people with the help of a little kooky cadre of helpers. I’ve only seen about half an episode and it felt like a departure from the lone wolf style established by the rest of the franchise. In the Fuqua-Washington versions that started in 2014, McCall is mostly a retiree working elderly McJobs like hardware megamart flunkie and rideshare hack. He stumbles across folks in trouble and then murders everyone who ever wronged them.
So it is with “3qualizer,” where McCall’s ACAB stance – All Camorra Are Bastards – sees him going totally “RoadHouse” on every young southern Italian with an asymmetrical haircut and neck tattoos. One of the things the movie series does best is making the baddies truly detestable. These Camorra dudes are such dicks. They’re always interrupting meals, slapping around children, and strangling old dudes in wheelchairs just to make a point that’s already been made pretty clear. At the same time, they’re also kind of terrible at their job. Their evil strategy for taking over this town doesn’t make any real sense. They burn a store or two and pick on the scared-est Carabinieri in history but how’s that going to help them build a casino?
Apparently, the Camorra has ties to Syrian ISIS or something. “3qualizer” brings in Dakota Fanning as a CIA officer tracking down some al-Qaeda super drugs that are tied to that vineyard and the local property bullies. How this is going to help their property scheme is never really clear. Money, I guess? But bringing in Fanning gives the movie a chance to showcase Denzel’s talents at on-screen mentoring. When Denzel turns on the charm with Fanning, a fish monger, or a hat merchant, the movie lightens up a bit and the intelligence of the McCall character shines through. That’s been a main strength in all of the movies in the series, and it’s why the stopwatch murder scenes are so effective. McCall is laying out both an ethos and a murder plan that he will enact immediately and precisely. It’s fun to watch him verbally piece together a death puzzle right before actually locking the pieces together using corkscrews, pressure points, and shards of stained glass.
“3qualizer” delivers a couple of those lecture/beatdowns very well, particularly at the beginning and in an anti-bullying restaurant scene. Yet, the movie connects those scenes by the flimsiest of big evil plots. We walk into Equalizers knowing that the title character is going to walk out mostly unscathed, having equalized everything. Even when a child shoots him in the back, “3qualizer” never for a second gives the audience the sense that anything negative can or will happen to McCall. That’s a problem. When there’s no sense of peril, there’s no suspense. The ultimate sin of “3qualizer” is leaving the audience with more dead bodies than actual thrills. There’s some pretty good fish shopping, too.