Proud Mary Review

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Taraji P. Henson may still have a career as an action heroine ahead of her, but she needs better material than this.

Released the second week in January, and not provided advance screenings for press (I have learned that the journalists sent to conduct interviews were also denied screenings), Babak Najafi’s Proud Mary, put out by Screen Gems, is yet another film in a long tradition of studio burial. And while this practice may have some audiences crying foul, it’s certainly worth considering that studios only typically do this when they know they have a dud on their hands; there are very few instances where critics are barred from a potentially undiscovered classic. Having seen it at a late-night screening, I’m afraid to report that Proud Mary is certainly a dud.

The opening credits for Proud Mary leave one full of hope. The funkified soundtrack and bubbly gold/orange 1970s graphic design underline a badass montage wherein Taraji P. Henson dons sleek leather clothing, carefully applies her assassin’s eyeliner, and gears up with elaborate, toaster-sized firearms. One may find themselves immediately optimistic that audiences will be treated to 89 minutes of Henson – one of the most vivacious and spirited actresses currently working – systematically and thrillingly gunning down scads of bad guys with no small amount of unflappable cool. An Atomic Blonde for the retro-blaxploitation set.

Sadly, the film that follows that wonderful title sequence is a largely action-free slog wherein Mary (Henson), a long-term assassin for the local Boston baddies, tasks herself with caring for a 12-year-old boy named Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) whom she orphaned a year ago. Danny is in the employ of a slimy Russian mob guy (Xander Berkeley) who gives him guns and sends him on drug delivery trips. Mary, as penance, will take Danny under her wing, but not before murdering said Russian mob guy, potentially sparking a mob war or, at the very least, angering her own boss (Danny Glover) and his hothead son (Billy Brown).

Mary moves Danny into her posh, catalogue-ready apartment, feeds him, and begins a battery of good-natured sniping which contains exactly zero charm. Why Mary never bothered to care for this boy over the course of the previous year – a year when he was beaten on the regular, and a year when she had his photo – the film’s screenplay never bothers to address.

Exit Theatre Mode

Proud Mary lays inert, squandering its star and presenting its story in what is perhaps the most blandly efficient fashion I am sure to witness this year. Henson and Winston, ostensibly meant to form a bickersome familial bond, have no chemistry, and one never gets the sense that an actual relationship is forming; we have to take the characters’ word for it that they are having warm feelings. What’s more the actual mob plot feels like it was lifted, already assembled, from 100 other mob films over the last few decades.

The film’s climax, wherein Henson gets to hop in a speeding Maserati and fire guns out the window, is a welcome release to the film’s forgettable plot-heavy monotony, but even then, the action feels rote. Director Najafi previously directed the largely awful London Has Fallen, another film with dull characters and rote action scenes, but that at least had the decency to be obscenely violent and amusingly morally irresponsible. Proud Mary, while rated R, seems to be holding back on its potential sensationalist mayhem, keeping a lot of the violence quick and obscured. Even Proud Mary’s blood seems to have been color-corrected to be darker and less blood-like (a technique often used by studios to secure a more family-friendly rating).

If you have Taraji P. Henson, the wherewithal to invoke the badass funk films of the ’70s, and the willingness to murder a pile of bad guys, then why not have some fun with it? Such a pity.

The Verdict

Although Taraji P. Henson is always a delight, a rote plot, bland action, and a serious lack of interpersonal chemistry hamstrings any potential Proud Mary might have at being fun.

Editors’ Choice

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