In “The Equalizer 3,” blood flows like wine as dark as Chianti, seeping into the cobblestone streets, splashing on stained glass and statues. Yes, star Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua used the third part of this trilogy as a vacation opportunity in Italy; vigilante Robert McCall (Washington) has left Boston behind to follow a string of sequels, TV productions and Instagram influencers. Old country to taste “la dolce vita”. But before Robert can enjoy retirement on the Amalfi Coast, he has to get his work done; which means getting rid of the pesky mafia in this charming village.
It’s clear that Fuqua watches Italian mafia movies and enjoys the visual drama offered by the setting and subgenre. His compositions are filled with religious iconography, baroque decorations, claustrophobic medieval streets and lots of pasta. But he and cinematographer Robert Richardson put their stamp on the footage by depleting and desaturating the color palette of the picturesque seaside town of Positano.
Speaking of Positano, the iconic town comes across here as a village called Altomonte, an actual place nestled between Sicily and Naples, but located much further inland. It’s unclear why Fuqua renamed such a recognizable slice of the Italian coast as another town, but this is somewhat normal when it comes to “The Equalizer 3,” the most fleeting in the series.
We don’t come to “The Equalizer” movies (based on the 1980s TV series) for the plot, and this third movie privileges performance and visceral, dramatic imagery over everything else. We start from the media res: Robert had already razed a group of unnamed men in a Sicilian winery, butcher knives embedded in the brains. He’ll soon hit another man in the head with a pistol and shoot himself as he fled.
The bullet in Robert’s back will be removed by a kind doctor in Altomonte, and he will fall in love with the warm hospitality and peaceful lifestyle of the people as he recovers in the village. He just has to send out the bloodthirsty Camorra gang trying to drive residents out of their homes so they can build resorts and casinos.
The appeal of this movie is watching Washington do what it does best and having a lot of fun here, quietly threatening bad guys, showing toothy grins, pontificating about good and evil, and talking about the necessity of doing evil. Be good, put the pain on the cool psychos. This is also Washington’s reunion with his “Man on Fire” co-star, Dakota Fanning, nearly 20 years later. Fanning plays CIA agent Collins, who reports that the winery is dealing with “jihadist drugs”. She comes to town to chase down the terrorists, but she’s actually there to play a cool joke with Robert. Fanning’s story can be omitted entirely from the film without losing anything other than the extra-film significance of seeing these actors together again.
In “Equalizer 3,” Fuqua opts for the operatic style and cheap poetry combined with an oddly paced and structured plot as loose as spaghetti noodles (again, by Richard Wenk). But the film isn’t completely impressionistly seedy; because Fuqua and Washington take the audience on tours of Europe and ask us to just sit back, relax and enjoy the journey where Robert McCall brought fear and turmoil to very bad people. Sometimes this is as good as it gets.
“Equalizer 3” — 2.5 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: R (for strong bloody violence and some language)
Running time: 1:49
How to watch: In theaters September 1st