It has been five years since we last saw Robert "The Equalizer" McCall, as played by the ever-arresting Denzel Washington. In that time, we've had a pandemic, three seasons of the Queen Latifah TV series (not to be confused with the Edward Woodward TV series from the 80's), and plenty of time to forget about this iteration of the franchise. I wish Washington and director Antoine Fuqua had forgotten about it too, because they both could have used the time they wasted on this movie doing something worthier of their talents.
The movie opens with the aftermath of a McCall killing spree on the staff of a Sicilian mansion. McCall had to get the attention of a crime boss (Bruno Bilotta) in a way that involved not getting killed, but getting captured so the boss could get personally involved. McCall's plan in this sequence and in the one at the film's climax have the same problem: they require the bad guys to show exactly the right amount of mercy. Even though McCall knows about their ruthlessness, he expects them to bide their time, toy with him a certain way, and not kill anyone unnecessarily, lest we hold him responsible for getting an innocent person killed because he had to get cute with his strategy.
The showdown at the mansion leaves McCall wounded. He's found unconscious by the side of the road by a helpful small-town cop (Eugenio Mastrandrea), who takes him to a local doctor (Remo Girone), who lets McCall recover at his house. McCall quickly takes to the town of Altamonte, where everyone is friendly to him, but fearful of the local Mafia, especially payment collector Marco (Andrea Dodero), brother of big boss Vincent (Andrea Scarduzio, and yes, I do think it's funny that the actors playing brothers share a first name, but not a last). He tries to stay out of the locals' delicate relationship with the violent organization, but trouble seems to have a way of finding Robert McCall, and he soon finds himself having to topple the entire criminal empire.
McCall's feud with the villains isn't limited to the parameters of the little town. He picked up some information at the mansion that ties the specific crime family to an elaborate cyber-crime ring. He relays crumbs of information to CIA agent Collins (Dakota Fanning). I expected Collins to help out McCall in some of the action scenes since he's injured, but the character frustratingly never really gets in the game. I honestly started questioning if she was some sort of last-minute addition to the screenplay to pad the movie's runtime, since she never interacts with any major characters besides McCall, and the movie's action is pretty scant anyway.
"The Equalizer 3" has done very well for itself at the box office over Labor Day weekend, so I must admit that the project has paid off commercially for Washington and Fuqua. But did this movie really satisfy their creative appetites? Maybe they wanted an excuse to spend time in Italy? That was definitely the case with "Book Club: The Next Chapter" from earlier this year. But while that movie - for all its faults - made Italy look like Heaven on Earth, this movie can't help but make it look "gritty," dragging it down to the tone of McCall's world. My theory is that Washington wanted to prove something to himself, namely that he can still carry an action movie as he approaches age 70. The film's box office definitely proves that he "can" (and I would have said he "can" even if the film wasn't performing well), though he "should" have held out for a better vehicle.
"The Equalizer 3" is rated R for strong bloody violence and some language. Its running time is 109 minutes.