THE EQUALIZER 2: This follow-up to the surprise 2014 box office hit finds retired CIA assassin Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) now moonlighting as a Lyft driver in between violent domestic and global stints punishing wrongdoers. Watching him maim lowlifes deserving of every broken limb he inflicts upon them registers as a sort of twisted, vicarious pleasure for viewers in the opening scenes. But when a close friend and former colleague (Melissa Leo) is killed by assailants unknown, Richard Wenk’s screenplay becomes a pretty standard revenge tale whose parts fail to add up to a satisfactory whole. If the preceding film presented the title character as a man shrouded in mystery, the narrative here reveals more about him but does little else with the grains of information we’re given that could have added needed depth to him. What we do manage to learn is that he’s a widower who still pines for his departed wife, reads a lot of books, hates graffiti on his building housing his rather cramped, drab apartment and is attempting to mentor a budding art student (Ashton Sanders) into traveling down a straight and narrow path. The rest of the time is spent tracking down some ill-defined villains who vaguely blather on about a world full of “unfortunates” who have to die should their name turn up on a hit list. Huh? The climactic showdown at a beachfront house being whipped around by near hurricane force winds is an implausible exercise in watching bad guys get killed in inventively bad ways as though they were horny teenagers in a FRIDAY THE 13TH crapfest. Not even Washington’s (See CLOSING CREDITS.) imminently charismatic presence can lift this project from the mire of mediocrity even though he has a real flair for killing guys. But like a past his prime boxer (Remember them?) or other professional athlete, the filmmakers behind this cinematic “scud” didn’t know when to quit.

CRITIC’S GRADE: C

CLOSING CREDITS: Here are some far better movies to watch Denzel Washington in – A SOLDIER’S STORY (1984), CRY FREEDOM (1987)*, GLORY (1989)**, MALCOLM X (1992)***, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (1993), THE PELICAN BRIEF (1993), CRIMSON TIDE (1995), COURAGE UNDER FIRE (1996), THE SIEGE (1998), THE BONE COLLECTOR (1999), THE HURRICANE (1999)***, REMEMBER THE TITANS (2000), TRAINING DAY (2001)****, ANTWONE FISHER (2002), INSIDE MAN (2006), AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007), THE GREAT DEBATERS (2007), UNSTOPPABLE (2010), FLIGHT (2012)***, FENCES (2016)***, ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. (2017)***

*Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor

**Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor

***Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor

****Academy Award Winner for Best Actor-