He's Shaft meets Santa

DOUBLE LIFE: Turning McCall (Washington) into an upright citizen is odd, as the actor is capable of playing flawed, morally nuanced roles.


    Sep 25, 2014

    He's Shaft meets Santa


    Action-thriller/132 minutes/Opens today


    Rating: 3/5



    The story:

    Based on the character at the centre of a 1980s television series of the same name, McCall (Denzel Washington), a manager at a hardware store, is a quiet, helpful but guarded man.


    When a friend, prostitute Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), hints that the Russian mafia might do her harm, McCall reveals himself to be anything but meek and mild.

    THE television series on which this is based saw its four-season run (1985-1989) being moderately popular. Even years on, its cultural influence has not dimmed.

    Burn Notice (2007-2013) and the ongoing Person Of Interest, among others, are shows which today feature spies: men with a "special set of skills", to use the catchphrase from Taken (2008), to help others.

    In adapting the series for cinema, much of what made the concept work for television has been discarded.

    Washington is younger and more adept in martial arts than Edward Woodward, the original Equalizer.

    Gone is the urbane smoothness and the James Bond-style gunplay, replaced by long fight sequences.

    That physicality is taken to extremes. In one scene, McCall (Washington), arming himself with a cocktail tool and desk stationery, lays waste to a roomful of Russians while checking his stopwatch like an athlete.

    When he is not dishing out street-level justice, he is a friend to all at his workplace, a hardware store which provides him with a wealth of improvised flame-throwers and stabby things.

    Director Antoine Fuqua won acclaim and commercial success working with Washington in cop drama Training Day (2001) and his kinetic, restless style is put to good use here.

    But the attempt to portray McCall as a warrior-scholar (he likes to read books such as The Old Man And The Sea in cafes) and a big-brother figure feels horribly overplayed and smarmy.

    That McCall should be turned into an upright citizen and buddy from the block is an odd call, because Washington is capable of playing flawed, morally nuanced characters. As it is, McCall feels like a composite of Santa Claus, Sun Tzu and private eye Shaft.