Denzel Washington may be in the Liam Neeson “man with particular skills” stage of his leading man carer, older, not so much “getting the girl” anymore as “getting his man.
But charisma and old-fashioned talent, what we glibly file under the label “chemistry” when actors click with every single co-star they share a movie with, carry him through in “The Equalizer 2,” a dawdling thriller that sacrifices thrills, surprises and at times coherence for the sake of character.
As Robert McCall, retired CIA agent and violent, all-knowing vigilante, Washington walks with his usual unhurried purpose, speaks with the sad wisdom of experience or righteous fury of the aggrieved and fixes one and all with a sizing-you-up stare that has been his trademark.
We meet McCall this time on a Turkish train disguised as a Muslim pilgrim, but really there to confront a Middle Eastern hood who kidnapped his daughter from her American mother. He warns his quarry, accompanied by armed henchmen, of the “two kinds of pain in the world; the pain that hurts, and the pain that alters.”
He’s giving the dude a choice, as he gives “everybody one last chance to do the right thing.” They never do. And that’s when the pain that hurts is administered. And the pain that alters.
Driving for Lyft in Boston, he sweetly undercharges the aged Holocaust survivor (Orson Bean, 90 years young and sharp) to the photocopy shop where he organizes more “evidence” for his endless case against those who stole a family portrait during World War II.
There’s the GI headed for his flight to Afghanistan, worried about his first deployment, whom McCall reassures during the ride.
“I’ll be right here to pick you up when you get back.”
The neighborhood hoodie-wearing teen, Miles (Ashton Sanders of “Moonlight”), is an unmotivated art student who acts awfully guilty at the gang graffiti covering the Muslim neighbor lady’s mural, the one on the wall overlooking her now-trashed vegetable garden.
Miles, who could go either way, the straight life or street corners selling drugs for gangs, is due a little “Fences” tough-love, some paid painting work by McCall to save him from bad influences.
“Money ain’t spelled ‘G.U.N., son. Stay off those corners!”
And there’s the former CIA boss (Oscar winner Melissa Leo) who still hooks McCall up with intel about this or that person of interest in his various do-gooding cases.
“I thought you were retired?”
“Oh, I am. Just like you’re dead!”
A piece of his past, “another life,” the one his faked death allowed him out of, is revealed. And that world sucks him back in to right a wrong, avenge a murder and give this downcast widower purpose.
Antoine Fuqua, Washington’s go-to action director, stages three top drawer shoot-outs/fights, one of them taking place in harrowing Lyft Ride from Hell. And there’s a bit of rough justice handed out to high-finance frat brothers who mistreat a hooker.
But more effort is put into McCall’s solitary life, the traits that give his character color. He buried his baker wife years ago. He’s plowing through “100 Books You Have to Read Before You Die,” and is up to Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.”
He interacts with small children in a few scenes, and Washington takes delight in both those silly comic moments, and the dangerously comic one.
But if you can’t figure out who the bad guys are on first sight — hint, it’s NOT the 90 year old comic and game show veteran Orson Bean — you aren’t getting out enough.
If you can’t tell where this is going before Fuqua takes his sweet time getting us to the absurdly drawn-out Western-style finale (complete with a “Searchers” visual homage), you must have never seen another Fuqua picture (“Shooter,” “Training Day,” “Olympus Has Fallen”).
And if you can’t take enormous pleasure in seeing Washington, in fine, cool and man-of-purpose form and on his game, then you haven’t been paying attention these past 35 years.
MPAA Rating: R, violence
Cast: Denzel Washington, Melissa Leo, Pedro Pascal, Bill Pullman, Ashton Sanders, Orson Bean
Credits:Directed by Antoine Fuqua, script by Richard Wenk. A Columbia release.
Running time: 2:01