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Denzel Washington in a scene from The Equalizer 3.Stefano Montesi/The Canadian Press

  • The Equalizer 3
  • Directed by Antoine Fuqua
  • Written by Richard Wenk
  • Starring Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning and Eugenio Mastrandrea
  • Classification 18A; 101 minutes
  • Opens in theatres Sept. 1

The first five minutes of The Equalizer 3 – Denzel Washington’s only, and thus strangest, franchise – unintentionally tip the film’s shaky hand.

After arriving at his Southern Italian compound following a massacre, a mafia boss surveys the damage. Bodies are strewn everywhere, some missing their heads and others with butcher knives where there should be noses or eyes. It is a gruesome scene, the camera lingering on festering wounds and sticky pools of blood. But there is precious little actual action on display, with the mafioso – and thus the audience – merely witnessing the aftermath of what looks like a kick-butt movie.

Only when the bad guy encounters Washington’s vigilante hero taking a breather in the mansion’s wine cellar, pooped from causing all that mayhem, does the promised carnage come to life. And even then, only for a few confusingly edited seconds, all quick cuts and CGI blood splatter. Mostly, Washington and director Antoine Fuqua (collaborating with the star for a fifth time) are engaging in a strange kind of post-action action filmmaking. Our Equalizer gets to do precious little equalizin’.

Blame Washington’s age – at 68, he is definitely getting too old for what Danny Glover once complained about at a mere 41 in Lethal Weapon – or blame Fuqua’s shoulder-shrugging approach to spectacle. Whatever the case, The Equalizer 3 (The 3qualizer was just sitting there, Sony Pictures’ marketing department) is a case of too much of too little. That is: Whenever the expected violence does finally arrive – when Washington’s former black-ops hero Robert McCall gets to unleash his very special set of skills, Liam Neeson-style – it is all messily choreographed splashes of ugly havoc. If you’re coming to this film for the killing, then prepare to have your expectations die just a bit for every one of the film’s 101 minutes.

It is easy, though, to understand why Washington agreed to sign up for a third go-round of this extremely loose adaptation of the 1980s television series. Set in Sicily and Naples, Fuqua’s film pauses for long stretches of time to admire the beautiful coastal scenery, all cobblestone streets and centuries-old churches. Washington also looks like he’s having a grand time sipping tea in sun-dappled palazzos, with McCall having landed in a small village after injuring himself during the battle with that mob boss mentioned above. If the actor just wanted to finance a movie in which he toured charming Italian towns, honestly, that would sell. Hook up with Stanley Tucci and call it a day, Denzel – no need to bring automatic weapons into the mix.

Yet the guns do come out, with McCall pulled into the town’s dispute with another gangster (Andrea Scarduzio) who is so goatee-twirling evil that he is introduced throwing an old man from his wheelchair out an apartment’s window. This dude’s gotta die, obviously. But the film’s central problem is that it takes Fuqua forever to make the inevitable happen, and when he gets around to it, the entire set-piece arrives with all the refined taste of an overcooked noodle swimming in a bowl of ketchup.

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For nostalgic reasons, Washington’s old Man on Fire co-star Dakota Fanning gets pulled into the fun, playing a CIA agent who is told by her boss (David Denman) how good she is at her job so often and with such gusto that we almost believe it, despite seeing her take a “secret” snapshot of McCall with her phone’s “snap” sound on. Oops. But it’s okay, because Fanning’s barely there presence is mere distraction from long, leisurely shots of Washington climbing stairs, folding tea napkins, buying fresh fish, and – an hour and change later – unconvincingly shoving knives into bad guys’ throats in barely lit alleys.

Arrivederci, Equalizer.

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