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Movie Review

Denzel Washington is back for more in ‘The Equalizer 2’

Denzel Washington in “The Equalizer 2.”Columbia Pictures

We had our doubts when Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua felt compelled to dust off Edward Woodward’s ’80s prime-time relic, “The Equalizer,” for a feature update four years ago. To our surprise, the duo delivered a gritty, relevant genre yarn that bristled with vigilante danger that the product-of-its-time TV show could never muster. The movie even adroitly dropped CIA-trained samaritan Robert McCall into a Home Depot(ish) cover setting, in what played as a wink at cheesy, budget-friendly action milieus from back in the day.

Apparently, we should have reserved our skepticism for “The Equalizer 2.” Save for a couple of crisp standalone segments incorporated as tone-setters, Washington’s first-ever sequel is a narratively and visually muddled disappointment, one that regularly confuses numbing brutality with vicariously thrilling righteous vengeance. The fault isn’t Washington’s — he brings as much electricity to the role this time as last. Even so, he and Fuqua record their first misfire in a partnership that also includes Washington’s Oscar showcase, “Training Day,” and their 2016 remake of “The Magnificent Seven.”


Following a crackerjack Middle East opener that reinforces McCall’s espionage bona fides — and casts Washington as a decidedly different sort of Muslim militant from Malcolm X — the action again finds our hero kicking around Boston, this time as a Lyft driver. It’s a wry departure from Woodward’s signature Jag, not to mention a promising story springboard, even if the fares end up blurring together. (Swell to see you, Orson Bean, but we’re still not quite sure what you’re doing here; McCall’s involvement with Ashton Sanders’s at-risk neighbor kid is B-story enough.)

Cut to Brussels, perplexingly, and a grisly assassination that McCall’s old CIA boss (cast returnee Melissa Leo) jets off to investigate, only to land in a tight spot herself. Leo, at least, gets to show some fight after having to snivel through a comparable gig in Fuqua’s “White House Down.” Still, McCall’s pursuit of her case with an assist from his former partner (Pedro Pascal, “Kingsman”) feels a bit removed from the whole helping-the-helpless theme. More problematically, ensuing betrayals are predictable — hey, it was the kinda-sorta familiar actor, just like on TV! — and a climactic gunfight improbably set against an evacuation-level nor’easter is a convoluted bid for visual novelty. Maybe Fuqua is trying to reconcile this silliness with the ballistics-and-environment verisimilitude of another of his films, “Shooter,” when he has McCall’s sniper nemesis sneer, “The wind makes it interesting.” Guess what? It doesn’t.


★ ★

Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Written by Richard Wenk. Starring Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Melissa Leo, Ashton Sanders. Boston theaters, suburbs. 121 minutes. R (brutal violence throughout, language, some drug content).