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‘The Equalizer 3’ reloads Denzel Washington as the McCall to call in a pinch

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Although the comparison doesn’t set the bar terribly high, “The Equalizer 3” might be the best in this Denzel Washington film series, not by honoring its TV roots but rather embracing an old western formula – specifically, “Shane.” The “final chapter” thus carries a bit more dramatic heft, while still offering plenty of, um, equalizing to satisfy those hungry for it.

The third outing by Washington, director Antoine Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk possesses a certain sentimentality, aided in part by reuniting the star and Dakota Fanning almost 20 years after he killed a lot of people on her behalf in “Man on Fire.”

Here, Washington’s world-weary retired assassin Robert McCall is plying his helping-those-in-need brand of vigilantism in Italy, where the Mafia conveniently serves up plenty of ruthless human cannon fodder to zero out in his quest to balance the scales of justice.

“Equalizer 3” basically kicks off in the middle, with an opening sequence that more than earns the movie’s R rating in about the first three minutes. That encounter leaves McCall wounded and in need of a place to recuperate, which happens to come in an idyllic seaside village where the local folk welcome him, a feeling that he gradually reciprocates.

Like Shane, Alan Ladd’s gunfighter in the waning days of their era, McCall begins to think about hanging up his guns and settling down. As bad luck would have it, though, the Mafia has plans for the town, leaving McCall facing a choice (not much of one in movie terms, really, but they go through the motions) about whether to intervene.

Dakota Fanning reunites with Denzel Washington in "The Equalizer 3."

As constructed, there’s more to it than that, starting with the fallout from that aforementioned introductory melee, and a tip that McCall passes along to a young CIA agent (Fanning), helping her gradually connect the crime scene to a larger and more nefarious plot.

Given the simplicity of the basic template – with Washington exuding quiet strength as the last guy any thinking criminal should mess with, joining Liam Neeson’s “Taken” trilogy in representing the AARP-eligible crowd among efficient killing machines – Fuqua and Wenk cleverly weave together the various strands. The effect provides the movie with more emotional resonance, even if the overarching threat and big crime boss (Andrea Scarduzio) are almost wholly generic.

Coming nine years after the first movie, with a sequel and CBS version starring Queen Latifah in between, “The Equalizer 3” might not be totally convincing as a “final” anything; still, the latest outing does have the benefit of feeling like it reaches a nice point at which to close the books for now on Robert McCall, all things, you know, being equal.

“The Equalizer 3” premieres September 1 in US theaters. It’s rated R.

 

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