Words by Harry Moore
“The Equalizer 3”
Between Keanu Reeves and Liam Neeson, the middle-aged action hero has become all the rage over the past 15 years or so — and what better actor is there to take on an aging badass part than Denzel Washington?
The third outing of “The Equalizer” finds the former CIA assassin Robert McCall (Washington), recuperating in an Italian seaside town after being injured in an altercation with drug smugglers. As he heals, he grows fond of the townspeople as they embrace him into their community. He soon learns that the town is being constantly terrorized by local mobsters, so he makes the decision to equalize the Camorra. For an installment in an action franchise, “The Equalizer 3” is surprisingly subdued. Far from the high-octane carnage of a “John Wick” or “Fast and Furious” film, “The Equalizer” is far slower and more contemplative, allowing for plenty of time for McCall to sip espresso and fall in love with an idyllic little Italian town. It plays like “Under the Tuscan Sun” with the addition of severed limbs. The film doesn’t rely on outlandish set pieces, though the action is gritty, brutal and not for the squeamish with the violence often playing more like a horror film than a typical summer blockbuster.
Washington re-teams with director Antoine Fuqua for a third time in this series and the fifth time overall. The pair, who most notably collaborated on “Training Day,” seem to have an understanding of how to get the best from one another at this stage of their careers. Washington, who has aged gracefully into the elder statesman movie star role, is allowed to show off his peerless gravitas through every scene, both quiet and loud, thanks to Fuqua’s trust in what Washington is capable of as a performer, as he is able to take a slower approach than the majority of action movies, whilst still being engaging. Likewise, Washington has consistently elevated Fuqua’s work with just his presence in a way few movie stars are able to. Also notably, “The Equalizer 3” is a reunion between Denzel and Dakota Fanning who both starred in Tony Scott’s revenge thriller “Man on Fire.” Fanning, who was among the most preeminent child stars of the 2000s, gives a serviceable performance with limited material as a CIA analyst on McCall’s tail. Much like the eponymous character, “The Equalizer 3” marches to the beat of his own drum and isn’t afraid to do the dirty work if necessary and showing, once again, that even in these later years of his career, there are few actors capable of holding the screen as Denzel Washington can.
Generations are named and separated by decades, but they are defined by their coming-of-age movies. Baby Boomers joined “The Breakfast Club,” Gen X was “Clueless” and for millennials, it was “Superbad” and “Mean Girls” that spoke to them. And now, as Gen Z comes of age, they have finally been gifted the high school comedy that will take a full page in Hollywood’s yearbook in the shape of “Bottoms.” Emma Seligman’s film follows PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), two unpopular queer friends who are hellbent on losing their virginities to the pretty, popular girls. They soon decide that starting a women’s self-defense/ fight club is the best course of action for gaining the attention of their crushes.
“Bottoms” is a decisively modern take on the high school comedy with its manic humor, knowing subversions of the genre’s well-trodden character archetypes and its handling of the generation’s sexual politics that doesn’t feel half a decade behind the culture — as many Hollywood comedies so often are. “Bottoms” strives for a bizarre and acidicly funny tone that feels like it is more inspired by Bugs Bunny than John Hughes. Seligman and Sennott co-wrote the inventive screenplay together with the former Tisch classmates reteaming after collaborating on Seligman’s quietly acclaimed debut “Shiva Baby” which launched the pair as being the darlings of the current independent film scene. Bottoms tackles the cliches of teen comedies with glee. The trope of football players as the school’s popular kids is pushed to the extreme with their pictures decorating the school hallways as though it were almost totalitarian propaganda, and the school’s staff playing fealty to the actions of the team. The star quarterback, Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), is played as the prom king from hell, terrorizing students on the lower end of the food chain and treating women as objects for his own pleasure. And yet, Seligman heavily plays up the pathetic nature of the character, having him scream hysterically as the girls take their revenge on him and making him into an inept child whenever he isn’t supported by his teammates-cum-hired goons. It is a depiction that amplifies the cartoonish tone that the movie strives for with Jeff and his sidekick Tim (Miles Fowler) being a pair of villainous man-children.
The ensemble cast, led by Sennott and Edebiri, is very strong with each member knowing their role and playing the part to great effect. Sennott, who stole the show in last year’s horror-comedy ensemble “Bodies, Bodies, Bodies,” gives another winning, wryly funny performance as PJ. She isn’t afraid of making the character unsympathetic and seems to thrive at twisting on other people in order to get a laugh. Edebiri, who has had a breakout year with major roles in “Theater Camp,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” and co-leading Hulu’s hit series “The Bear,” is like the Michael Cera to Sennott’s Jonah Hill. She is able to wring laughs out of the less showy, more subdued part with understated line deliveries and facial reactions. Elsewhere in the cast, supermodel Kaia Gerber makes her big-screen debut in a role that leans into and subverts her image as the seemingly vapid cheerleader Brittany, while Ruby Cruz and Havana Rose Liu both give memorable performances as members of the fight club. Meanwhile, former NFL star Marshawn Lynch shows off his natural charisma and comic delivery in a supporting role that is closer to Kareem in “Airplane!” than Shaq in anything. “Bottoms” is a witty and unique take on the high school comedy that I feel will leave a lasting impression on the genre.