Back in the day, veteran stage and screen actor Edward Woodward revived a sagging career by agreeing to play a most unlikely role as a modern day vigilante in the TV series “The Equalizer”. The show was actually quite good, but like most shows of this nature, complaints were soon flooding into the NBC Network moaning about too much violence and the cold-heartedness of its main character. Attempting to oil the squeaky wheel, the writers for the show soon turned Woodward’s character, Robert McCall, from a vigilante to a politically correct social Robin Hood. Once this happened, the shows storylines became predictable and mundane and the ratings dropped, sealing its doom.
Now, “The Equalizer” will have a rebirth on the Silver Screen, in the guise of Denzel Washington. It’s an interesting selection as Denzel appears to have succumbed to the box office ploy of 50’s aged actors seeking action characters for a series or franchise.
I, along with other critics of similar talent, cried at the pseudo action stars of the modern day. Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Ryan Reynolds, Keanu Reeves, Tom Cruise and to a certain extent Russell Crowe, all gave it a good show, but eventually couldn’t even convince the celluloid-ignorant of their ability to be perceived as an action star. Once Jackie Chan and Jet Li opted to retire from action films, the posers were fully exposed. Sly Stallone saw the gap and quickly filled it with his “The Expendables” series. Meanwhile, action star Bruce Willis, though attempting other roles, never strayed from the action path. Soon, stars in, or reaching, or in some cases past their 50’s, struck box office gold by playing old grizzled curmudgeons with a penchant for dishing out fierce revenge when pushed too hard. Clint Eastwood returned to the genre and stars normally not considered action stars, like Liam Neeson also jumped on the bandwagon.
Which brings us back to “The Equalizer”. When the series began back in the 1980’s, criticism spawned before the first episode aired. Why would Woodward accept such a role? Who would believe a retired guy could be a master vigilante? Would audiences accept an old guy in a traditionally young guy role?
Woodward not only sold his version of McCall to the viewing audience, he became a trend setter. So, it seems somewhat fitting Denzel should now pick up the mantel. Most of the actors in his generation have latched onto a series or franchise character. He’s held out as long as possible, but the writing is on the wall. At a time when he should be playing Spencer Tracey types, he takes on the part that first brought the senior citizen as action star, to the big screen. Should this ploy work, Denzel could have his franchise character. But, Denzel may be his own worst enemy.
Earlier this week, Rupert Wyatt was announced as the director for “The Equalizer”. Wyatt was best known for music videos and commercials until he successfully helmed “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. He was not the first choice for the project.
Initially, Nicolas Winding Refh was given the project. He is best known for “Drive”, an independent film that should have won Best Picture a few years back. Refh’s treatment of the main character in “Drive” was brutal but opened many a door for star Ryan Gosling. His treatment of “The Equalizer” proved to be just as brutal, and that’s where he and Denzel had the clichéd ‘creative differences’.
Denzel, like Jamie Foxx, is very conscience of his screen image and has many clauses written into his standard contract. Denzel can be rough, but did not want to be as rough around the edges as Refh desired. Denzel carries weight, so Refh is gone, much the pity, and Wyatt is steering the ship. My sources say the original script involved McCall battling Muslims. This is currently a no-no in Tinseltown because of the extensive flow of Middle Eastern money into Hollywood coffers. With Wyatt in charge, the script now calls for “The Equalizer” to battle the current standard antagonists, the Russian mob. Once again, Hollywood plays the ostrich. In airports, malls or large social gatherings, I know of no one who is apprehensive of the Russian mob.
This might be a rare opportunity lost. Denzel had a chance, not only to be on the bandwagon of senior citizen action stars, but set himself apart by taking the formula to the next level. Do not be surprised if Sly, realizing Denzel’s mistake, doesn’t begin a project where he plays a more hard edged action star; one even rougher than Walter Hill gave him in “Bullet to the Head.”