If you were a fan of junk television in the 1980s, you probably remember Robert McCall, hero of CBS' "The Equalizer," a skilled and shadowy figure devoted to helping out distressed damsels and honest working folk. Like so much the networks offered back then, the show was pure hokum -- in one episode, McCall stabs Adam Ant -- but it did have a steely edge, thanks to its star, Edward Woodward, a British actor whose intensity helped sell the phony action scenes.
What could be gained by adapting that old show to today's big screen? Theoretically, quite a lot. Directed by Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") with a hard R rating, the movie can do things the FCC would never have allowed. And with a formidable actor like Denzel Washington as McCall, you've got at least the makings of a solid action film.
"The Equalizer" is the origin story of McCall, a humble Bostonian working at a home-improvement store and trying to forget his violent past (Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo play his former intelligence-agency handlers). At the local diner, McCall befriends a young prostitute, Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), and paternally encourages her to "change your world." When Teri's pimp puts her in the hospital, however, McCall puts his old skills to use.
That's a delicious-sounding recipe for macho fantasy, but Fuqua's movie is just as dopey and creaky as the series. The violence is bloodier but no more believable -- can you really kill someone with a shot glass? -- and Washington's sly intelligence seems wasted on dozens of slow-moving, dim-bulb thugs. Speaking of villains, these cold war cutouts could be rejects from the series: Marton Csokas plays a tattooed Russian named Teddy, and his boss is called Pushkin.
Making "The Equalizer" truly groan-worthy are its many subplots, each a tidy little episode with a heartwarming ending. (Richard Wenk wrote the script.) Aside from a new cast and a closing rap track from Eminem -- there's no trace of Stewart Copeland's original, synth-driven theme song -- you can barely tell this hokey new movie from the hokey old show.
PLOT A former CIA agent decides to help a troubled girl.
RATING R (violence, language)
CAST Denzel Washington, Chloë Grace Moretz, Marton Csokas
BOTTOM LINE Even Washington can't rise above this dopey reboot of the 1980s television show.
TV SHOWS THAT MADE THE JUMP TO THE BIG SCREEN
All things being equal, TV shows of many decades become movies -- like "Maverick" and "The Beverly Hillbillies" from the 1960s, "The Brady Bunch" and "Starsky and Hutch" from the 1970s or the original-cast "Sex and the City" and "The X-Files" from the 1990s and 2000s. So the new movie based on the 1985-89 CBS vigilante drama "The Equalizer" isn't the only one from the era of shoulder pads and synthesizers.
The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) Well, it was right around those mid-2000s that them Duke boys come ridin' into theaters, with Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott takin' over from Tom Wopat and John Schneider as Luke and Bo Duke, respectively, there.
Miami Vice (2006) There was something in the air tonight that made "Miami Vice" TV producer-turned-movie-director Michael Mann revisit his sleek, stylish, pastel police series with a grimy, sweaty, dark adaptation.
The A-Team (2010) Hannibal Smith (George Peppard in the series, Liam Neeson in the film) loved it when a plan came together. He might not have loved this version.
21 Jump Street (2012) Played dead serious on TV, the undercover-cops-in-high-school premise made for a killer comedy.
-- Frank Lovece