The Screen Critic: Denzel’s final dance as The Equalizer, a Ninja Turtles romp and a Netflix drug drama

Sep 08, 2023
Source:Denzel Washington in The Equalizer (Sony); A cast member from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (Paramount); Matthew Broderick in Painkiller (Netflix).

Strap yourselves in, folks.

In the action-packed, blood-soaked vigilante drama of The Equalizer 3 the ever-durable Denzel Washington returns for what we are told will be his very final confrontation with those evil forces who do wrong to decent, ordinary folk. And when it comes to vanquishing villains, Denzel does it so well.

As everybody’s favourite avenging angel of justice – apart from Charles Bronson, that is – Washington is at his no-nonsense best as Robert McCall, the brutally efficient professional killer who tends to side with the underdog.

Here we find McCall ready to settle into blissfully anonymous retirement in a lovely seaside village in Sicily when – wouldn’t you know it? – the local Mafia chapter decides to move in and heavy the locals.

The idea is to push the hard-working people out so they can take the place over with their casinos and massage parlours. Having already chosen his favourite cafe, McCall politely takes issue with the redevelopment plan, chiefly by matching the mob’s violent tactics with his own brand of payback.

Again directed by Antoine Fuqua (who took Denzel to Oscar glory in 2000’s Training Day), the closing chapter of The Equalizer series – based, of course, on the classic 1980s TV series with Edward Woodward – has more gory action than the first two films, which shouldn’t unsettle fans of the franchise or of Denzel, whose well-publicized Christian faith underpins the clash of good versus bad.

So, God is on his side – along with some high- powered weaponry.

Also offering us a second sequel is Nia Vardalos, whose low-budget 2002 hit comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding became one of the most profitable films of all time. (Made for less than $10 million, it took more than $625m.)

Now she and the extended family are back for a third bite at the cherry, and it’s a super-light, sufficiently pleasant time killer as Toula (Vardalos) leads the vociferous clan back to Greece for a reunion.

With the passing of her father (played by the late Michael Constantine in the first two films, who died in 2021), Toula’s mission is to visit his hometown and pass on his treasured scrapbook to his old friends.

Vardalos sat in the director’s chair and did a sunny job, delivering enough predictable romance and gags to satisfy Big Fat Greek fans.

She also took full advantage of the location shoot, making Athens and the Greek island of Corfu look very inviting – something the organisations that helped make the film would no doubt be pleased with after the fires.

While we all like a good scare we also like to see a bit of ingenuity and imagination from the filmmakers. Unfortunately, Nun 2 is a low-end horror film strictly designed for the easily spooked.

Taking place in 1950s France, a pair of young nuns are sent to investigate the weird goings-on at a dimly lit Catholic teaching facility where a demon spirit is haunting its musty halls and taking possession of the school’s attractive handyman.

Even fans of the first film might struggle to find much to jump at here. And why doesn’t anyone ever turn the lights on?

Serving up an over-sized slice of fun for kids is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, a slick action-comedy jaunt with lots of goofy laughs and a nice message about the importance of looking past differences and sticking together.

Visually, the film boasts a rather beautiful animation style, with a deliberately rough, hand-drawn look distinguishing it from the polished precision we are so used to and making it very pleasing to the eye.

Those after something out-of-the-ordinary at the arthouse circuit will find plenty to enjoy with Biosphere, a post-apocalyptic science-fiction comedy about two men (played by Mark Duplass and Sterling K. Brown) living in a small protective dome after the end of civilization.

Confined to the one location – the energy for which is somehow sustained by a few plants and a fishpond – the cleverly devised scenario delivers a non-stop stream of surprises as we slowly piece together who these two gents actually are, how they ended up in this bizarre circumstance and, ultimately, how they plan to continue the human species.

Enjoyably far-fetched and very well-acted, Biosphere is definitely weird and warped, but in a manner most satisfying for those happy to buy into its oddball nature.

The reputation of Big Pharma finds no favour in Painkiller, a fast-paced, factually inspired six-part Netflix series that exposes the manner in which the mega billion-dollar drug corporation Purdue pushed the opioid OxyContin onto the American public and the addiction crisis that ensued.

We see the drama unfold from three key perspectives, each anchored by some fabulous performances. At the top is Matthew Broderick splendidly playing Richard Sackler, the slippery company head who devises the drug, works around its imperfections, and then deviously wins the official FDA approval he needs to make billions from an unsuspecting public.

In the middle are the teams of attractive young sports car-driving women deployed to push the product onto pharmacists whose guard is lowered by flattery and flirting. West Duchovny is a knockout as one of the sales recruits who falls in love with her lucrative job before slowly coming to see the price OxyContin exacts on its victims.

At the bottom we find blue-collar boss Glen Kryger who suffers a workplace injury and becomes hooked on OxyContin, which his son is secretly selling to his friends as a party drug. The performance from Taylor Kitsch is the show’s highlight and presents one of the most powerful portrayals of addiction you are likely to see.

Big-screen veteran Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights; Deepwater Horizon; Patriots Day) does an excellent job as director, keeping focus on the many storylines without letting the pace sag. There are a few ill-judged satiric digressions that prove very awkward and quite unnecessary, given how strong the drama is, with each episode introduced by people who lost loved ones to the drug.

For more visit with updates on X at @jimschembri

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