Review: ‘Equalizer 3’ offers diminishing returns

Denzel Washington stars in The Equalizer (Sony Pictures)

Third films in a movie series are tricky business, particularly when the story wasn’t necessarily designed to be continued.

How to extend the character and its story beyond its original intent is the crux of the problem. Often such endeavors lead to diminishing returns. The big question, though, is how much do they diminish?

Economically we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see how the latest Denzel Washington and Anton Fuqua film “The Equalizer 3” does at the box office. I’m guessing it won’t be a block buster, but with limited competition in theaters, it might do fairly well.

For my money the previous two films in the series — both directed by Fuqua — were excellent action films from a similar vein as the R-rated Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson action/revenge narratives that did gangbusters at the box office in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Without a doubt the throwback nature of the vigilante tropes revived by the “Equalizer” films — based on the 1980s CBS TV series — appeal greatly to me.

As outstanding as some of Eastwood’s ‘Dirty Harry” films were and as outlandish as Bronson’s “Death Wish” revenge flicks became, Fuqua and Washington strike an interesting balance between the two.

Certainly some of the situations and violence in the three “Equalizer” films are as broad as much of what is found in the “Death Wish” movies, but Fuqua crafts them better than Bronson’s directors. Like the better “Dirty Harry” movies, the trio of “Equalizer” movies maintain a semblance of realism that helps you buy the less credible material.

It also helps that Washington is a better actor than Bronson and displays more range than Eastwood allowed in his “Dirty Harry” hey days. It’s hard not to like one of Washington’s characters when he wants you to.

Washington’s ex-military intelligence officer Robert McCall has charisma and heart when he’s not in the process of equalizing things. When he clicks his watch to time his maneuvers, a switch is flipped and he becomes a stone-cold killer, devoid of mercy, until he clicks the timer on his watch again.

After taking care of nasty characters in bloody and brutal ways in the first two films, McCall has moved from the United States to Sicily where he becomes crosswise with another brutal mafia capo that he again works to take down.

I enjoyed the movie. It’s slick and fast and brutal, and at times humorous and touching. If its repetitive nature from the previous films doesn’t bother you, the film will likely entertain you in the moment. Like a lot of Hollywood sequels, it’s more of the same.

It’s kind of like eating at a mid-level chain restaurant on a good night. The food is decent and satisfying in the moment, but it’s not a meal you’re going to bother suggesting or even mentioning to a friend.

It’s not special enough to rave over, or bad enough to gripe about.

Washington is the special sauce on the burger that makes the whole meal a bit better than the norm. It’s nice to see Dakotah Fanning work with him again after they starred together in “Man on Fire” (2004), when Fanning was a child. I doubt we’ll see the pairing again.

If you enjoyed the first two films, I think you’ll like this one as well, but it’s also a film you can pass on without missing much of anything.

(R) 1 hr. 49 min.
Grade: B-

New in Local Theaters – Sept. 1, 2023

  • The Equalizer 3 (R) 1 hr. 49 min. (trailer)
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight)
  • Bottoms (R) 1 hr. 31 min. (trailer)
    (AMC Fiesta Square)

Classic Corner – North Dallas Forty

“North Dallas Forty” is based on a novel of the same name by retired NFL receiver Peter Gent. It’s a very loosely disguised satire of the Dallas Cowboys of the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

The 1979 film is a raucous, ribald comedy that pulls no punches about a game that became a big business before some of the players even realized it.

Nick Nolte stars as disillusioned veteran receiver Phil Elliot, who is tired of playing the game on the field and in the meeting room.

However, he just can’t walk away from the only thing he knows and loves. Football.

Mac Davis is his best friend, star quarterback Seth Maxwell, who empathizes with Elliot, but needs his buddy to take the game more seriously.

There’s not a better or more truthful film about the NFL.

The movie plays at 9 p.m. Tuesday on Turner Classic Movies.

Knute Rockne, All American

Notre Dame is perhaps the most polarizing college football program in America. You’re either for The Fighting Irish or against ’em.

As a good ol’ Southern boy, reared on Southwest and Southeastern conference football, I have never had much use for Golden Domers, despite their storied history.

However, I can put those feelings aside for a couple hours every year or so to watch “Knute Rockne, All American,” the stirring, 1940 biopic starring Pat O’Brien as the legendary coach and Ronald Reagan as star player George “The Gipper” Gipp.

A Modern audience might find the movie cheesy as it extols only the virtues of collegiate football while glossing over the sport’s underbelly that was present even in what we like to think of as a more innocent time.

While I like a good exposé as much as anyone, I can also enjoy a bit of harmless pap, particularly when it’s as rousing as this film that lauds Rockne’s substantive gridiron achievements.

From the early scene when a young Rockne bursts into his home late for supper but joyous about his discovery of the sport that would define his life, to the classic scene where O’Brien recreates Rockne’s “win one for the Gipper” halftime pep talk, the movie encapsulates why so many love sports, particularly a game as visceral as football. It’s the camaraderie among players or “my boys” as Rockne refers to them that makes the blood, sweat, toil and tears worth it.

Like many biopics, the movie doesn’t get all the history exactly right, but it does nail the emotional core of the story.

It’s a great movie to set the tone for football season, even if it does feature Notre Dame. The film plays at 1 a.m. Wednesday on Turner Classic Movies.