Before its regular-joe hero gets bitten by a radioactive equation and becomes the Equalizer, who's sort of the Rain Man of puncturing Russian mobsters' windpipes with corkscrews, Antoine Fuqua's eye-gouging, brain-drilling, crowd-pleasing latest gives you a reel or two to remember what movies felt like back when they were about people. Denzel Washington's Bob McCall toodles about a Home Depot–like store, helping customers, decked out in New Balance shoes and jeans so last-century you'll be looking for pleats. Fuqua shows him reading alone, and then contemplating the light through sheet-plastic curtains on a loading dock, the things thoughtful folks actually do but in Hollywood denote unmanly listlessness. Here's a man without a mission.
As luck would have it, just after he tells a prostitute pal that he's now reading Cervantes, McCall gets some windmills to tilt at -- and shoot and gut and let bleed out while delivering hard-ass monologues. Russian pimps rough up his sex-worker friend, so McCall one-man-armies them in a howlingly crazy scene that's mostly too fast to make sense of.
The contrast between friendly McCall and this murdering savant isn't played for laughs, really, but it is wildly funny. A heartbeat after one bloody triumph, McCall is beaming and sunlit and surrounded by flowers in his big-box store's garden department. It's like the producers decided the reason Larry Crowne bombed was that Tom Hanks never killed every motherfucker in the room. The badass pageantry offers pleasures, and is often mad and inventive, but it's tough to shake the loss: What does it mean when corporations get to be people but movie stars can't?