“Equalizer 3” – the latest and last feature film spawned from the 1985 vigilante television series – is marked by a solid performance by Denzel Washington and tight direction by Antoine Fuqua. That’s good but not enough to lift the film out of the general air of malaise filtered throughout the production.

Robert McCall (Washington) has escaped to Southern Italy in an effort to find some personal peace after a life of violence. While he would love to leave his brutal ways behind him, the local crime bosses just keep pulling him back into another fight. His role as champion for the common man gets magnified. Instead of coming to the assistance of one person, McCall becomes the guardian for an entire town.

Washington’s performance as Robert McCall is filled with the actor’s natural charm. That is a big saving grace. It does not completely counterbalance the fact there just isn’t the same sense of urgency that made the first two offerings in the production so entertaining.

McCall came across as a tightly wound spring inside a tranquil shell. He was more often on defense than offense and this time it is reversed. It makes for an acceptable action film but doesn’t have the same crispness as the previous efforts in the franchise.

One of the most interesting characteristics of McCall in the previous films was the way the audience got to see him map out his battle plan before launching his assault. There is only one scene where he gives the bad guys a time frame but there is no preview of the carnage to come.

Fuqua, who directed the previous two “Equalizer” movies, changed his directing style for this film. He doesn’t reveal McCall’s client until the end of the movie. And, the biggest fight sequence is only shown in a wispy flashback. Either Fuqua has tired of making “Equalizer” movies or he made directing decisions that did little to support the foundation that had been established for the franchise.

The addition of Dakota Fanning as a spunky CIA agent gives Washington some fun acting moments as the two trade verbal taunts. Her presence in the film is too disconnected to what Washington is doing and that throttles any potential for a complete connection between the two.

Fanning’s addition acts as a filler for a more limited number of action scenes for Washington. He still commands the screen but there are signs that the action hero world is more demanding for him than it was in the two previous productions. Washington has said it is time for McCall to retire and this film offers evidence of that.

Richard Wenk has been the writer on all three films. Except for shifting the story to a stunning European location, he never offers up anything more than tropes so often used in this kind of man vs. maniac criminals stories.  

There is torture, the threatening of a child, snarling threats and the kind of telegraphed dialogue that proves to be huge clues for the audience. Here is a good rule to remember. If a very bad person declares that they will be back to kill the hero the next day, it is always a safe bet that bad guy won’t live to see that next day.

Shifting the story to a European location does help fortify that the film franchise and the CBS television series with Queen Latifah playing Robin McCall are two very separate beasts. Both are good in their formats.

Wenk does go overboard trying to make the small village as wholesome as possible. Merchants give away food to strangers. Children run through the city square stopping only to drink from the central fountain. And like a scene from an old Western, the townspeople all show up when it looks like the hero is in serious trouble.

None of that is wrong. It is just one of the many examples of how this third version feels like everyone decided to just sit back and let the past carry the day instead of pushing to make what appears to be the end to the franchise go out in a blaze of vigilante glory.

Movie review

The Equalizer 3

Grade: B-

Cast: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Eugenio Mastrandrea, Remo Girone.

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Rated: R for graphic violence, language

Running time: 103 minutes.