Of the four seasons there are only two that matter for Hollywood. The summer where the blockbuster behemoths rule the box office and the winter when the bulk of the Oscar bait is released. Between them is spring and fall where everything else that isn’t certain to break the box office or charm the critics gets dumped.
Even among the rubble of these dead zones a quality gem can emerge from the pack. John Wick and The Equalizer are not gems. They are totally serviceable completely forgettable popcorn flicks where aging actors strut their stuff showing they can still kick ass and take no names.
The acting styles of Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves couldn’t be more different. Washington has won two Academy Awards while Reeves pretty much gives the same performance over and over. Washington has played crooked cops, boxers, detectives, Black icons, soldiers, and nearly always with charm, intelligence and style. Reeves is pretty good at playing slackers and hackers. It isn’t that Reeves can’t act, but never seems to want being caught doing it.
Despite their day-to-night differences in their approach to acting Washington and Reeves have appeared in a movie together in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing which I’ve never seen because Shakespeare sucks. I have seen The Equalizer and John Wick and I can say without fear of correction or contradiction these are two movies telling the same story.
Both feature two men of action with shadowy pasts shaking off the rust to do what a man gotta do namely killing a lot of bad guys who need to be dead while shrugging off wounds that would kill a platoon while still being the one guy who can kill 25 guys without busting a sweat.
Washington can give bad performances in bad movies like Virtuosity, 2 Guns and John Q but in The Equalizer he gives a lazy one. Mumbling, speaking in a monotone, barely changing expression as he switches back and forth between two modes: smiling sincerely as a clerk in a Home Depot stand-in into a dead-eyed, thug-torturing sadist. Denzel couldn’t make it clearer he’s picking up a paycheck here, but despite reuniting with Antoine Fuqua from Training Day, Washington just looks bored and after 132 minutes of this trifling, instantly forgettable flick, I totally understand why. Disposable trash has its place, but it has to know its place. The Equalizer would like you to think its a better movie than it is. It’s not.
Washington turns 60 next week and he’s slowed his roll to one film a year as he makes fewer movies he takes less risks. The proof is clear in the films that have followed since American Gangster tried for epic scale in 2007, but came up a bit short. Out of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, The Book of Eli, Unstoppable, Safe House, Flight, 2 Guns, and The Equalizer, there’s some good Denzel, some bad Denzel, some okay and some awful Denzel. Flight is not a great movie, but was the last time America’s most charismatic actor broke a sweat. Next up aher remake and this time it’s a Western, The Magnificent Seven. Can’t you feel the electricity?
It’s funny, but as Washington grows older his acting style moves closer to Reeves. Wooden and deadpan with stares and glares replacing emotional range or depth. There’s nothing complex about the characters of Robert McCall and John Wick. They lock on their mission with single-minded intent and then the killing starts until they run out of faceless thugs to kill.
Washington is one of the rare actors in Hollywood who’s never made a sequel, but that could change as both The Equalizer and 2 Guns set up the possibility for future installments. That will be good for Denzel’s $20 million paycheck, but can’t we get a follow-up to Devil In A Blue Dress or Inside Man too?
Reeves has no worries about slumming as a middle age action hero roles (he’s 50) or falling off from his heights as an actor. Reeves isn’t an actor as much as he’s a reactor. Whether its Speed or The Matrix, something always happens to his characters and Reeves has to respond to whatever it is. That’s okay by me because even if he isn’t a very good actor, he makes a perfectly acceptable ass-kicker and he kicks major ass as an unstoppable force who isn’t stingy with his bullets. “Double Tap” should be the name of the next John Wick flick.
Both films have reached the end of their first-run life and are may be lingering in the second run theaters. For the right price and the popcorn has enough butter, I’d go see either both of them again before last installment of The Hobbit. Not a lot for a brother to get hyped about unless you’re into swords and a lot of actors in wigs.