Awful ‘Equalizer,’ Engrossing ‘Tracks,’ Witty ‘Trolls’

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By FS

Contributing Writer

 

 

 

“The Equalizer”

 

Denzel Washington stars as ex-CIA agent Robert McCall in Antoine Fuqua’s big-screen updating of the eighties television series “The Equalizer” (wide release).

In what amounts to an origins episode of a proposed franchise, McCall comes out of retirement to help a young call girl being threatened by the Russian mob. His intervention prompts a cruel enforcer to travel from Moscow in an attempt to take him out. McCall, of course, has the tools to fight back — and win — even against highly unfavorable odds. A big, final confrontation at a Home Depot-like store features him employing a variety of tools to polish off a virtual army of bad guys.

Washington brings a certain gravitas to his role, but the movie is nothing more than a dumb succession of action set-pieces, shot in dank grays and greens that make the Boston setting look like a third-world city. The script comes across like something that might have been written for Steven Seagal or Sylvester Stallone twenty years ago.

“The Equalizer” certainly falls on the wrong side of the scales.

 

From left, Toni Collette and Simon Pegg in “Hector and the Search for Happiness.” -Photo courtesy of collider.com
From left, Toni Collette and Simon Pegg in “Hector and the Search for Happiness.”
-Photo courtesy of collider.com

“Hector and the Search for Happiness”

 

Simon Pegg is the sort of actor who can bring comic edge even to weak material, but he’s utterly defeated by “Hector and the Search for Happiness” (wide release), a slick but sappy inspirational tale that wants to make you feel good but is likely to leave you deeply depressed.

Pegg plays a psychiatrist unhappy with his personal and professional life, so he decides to go off on a round-the-world trip to seek the secret to true happiness. His journey will take him to Shanghai nightclubs, a Tibetan monastery, a clinic in Africa and a California laboratory where the functions of the brain are being studied.

The lessons that Hector learns turn out to be nothing more than banal bromides of the sort one finds in saccharine greeting cards, and Pegg’s portrayal of the naïve, dopey guy — meant to make him ingratiating — backfires, reducing him instead to the status of an irritating twit.

This is a movie only for people who think that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” constitutes a deep thought.

 

“Tracks”

 

A far more worthwhile cinematic journey is provided by “Tracks” (Angelika), based on the incredible 1700-mile solo walk that Robyn Davidson took across Australia — from the northeast to the Indian Ocean — in 1977, a feat that a photographer for the National Geographic recorded in periodic rendezvous with her along the way.

Though physically slight, Mia Wasikowska manages to embody the steely self-determination that enabled Davidson to complete an undertaking that many considered impossible, and director John Curran makes excellent use of the beautiful but forbidding locations in his lush widescreen images.

And the film is not entirely a one-woman show. Adam Driver is surprisingly engaging as the shutterbug, and Rolley Mintuma proves an expert scene-stealer as an Aborigine elder who accompanies Davidson along part of her route.

However, he has considerable competition from the four camels Davidson took along with her, and even more from the dog that not only accompanies her but also at one point literally saves her life — but doesn’t make it all the way to the sea.

“Tracks” is not quite as successful in portraying Davidson’s inner psychological journey as her physical one, but it is nonetheless a trip worth taking.

 

“The Boxtrolls”

 

Laika Studio, which specializes in advanced stop-motion animation, scored with its first two features “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.” Its newest, “The Boxtrolls” (wide release), does not quite match them, but it is still more engaging than most family films.

It is basically a skewered version of the Pied Piper fairytale, in which an evil exterminator named Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley) offers to rid the town of the trolls that live underground and come out at night to scavenge, but are wrongly suspected of abducting children. Actually, they are peaceable critters that have adopted and raised a boy who — with help from the mayor’s daughter — saves the place (and the trolls) from Snatcher’s schemes.

“The Boxtrolls”—the title comes from the fact that the trolls dress themselves in discarded cardboard boxes—is not laugh-out-loud funny, depending more on sly British wit than heavy-handed gags. But by the end credits, which one should definitely sit through since they feature some of its best jokes, it is proven a picture that both older children and their parents should be able to enjoy together.

 

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