John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal, Steve Antin
1 h 29 min
Taraji P. Henson, Billy Brown, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Neal McDonough, Margaret Avery, Xander Berkeley, Rade Serbedzija, Erik LaRay Harvey, Danny Glover
R for violence
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
Somewhere within the shoddy framework that is Proud Mary, there’s an interesting concept trying to struggle out.
As a member of a Boston Mafia family, Mary (Taraji P. Henson) is becoming disillusioned and wants to get out precipitated by a hit that left a young boy (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) fatherless. Years later, she’s still keeping track of him trying to make sure that he doesn’t fall in with a bad crowd. The inevitable occurs and an unsanctioned hit on the boy’s abusers creates tensions with a rival family and a war begins to brew between them. Not only is her own life in danger, but so too are the boy’s, the family patriarch’s (Danny Glover), and her ex-boyfriend’s (Billy Brown), the patriarch’s son.
The first trailer for Proud Mary gave the distinct impression that we were in for an espionage thriller about a hit woman. Yet, what the audience gets is a mob film that digs into obvious tropes and themes to play out almost as expected.
In this role, Henson is very good, as she always is, but the material is bargain-basement filmmaking. The first twenty minutes are incredibly choppy, cobbled together from too little collected footage. The scenes skip around like poorly-selected form cuts, jarring the audience at regular intervals. While the clumsy filmmaking continues as the film does, the raw edges smooth out a bit and we’re left experiencing a plot that’s thin and frustratingly predictable.
Written for the screen by John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal, and Steve Antin, the screenplay is propped up by cheesy dialogue and situations that are never smooth. It’s a story that has only one certain outcome, though some of the details aren’t as obvious as they might be. The film’s only meritorious section is one in which Mary annihilates all of the goons inside a warehouse. The scene is set to Tina Turner’s signature tune, and titular namesake “Proud Mary.” The music accentuates the action on screen with creative energy. You know where everything is going, but a few unique flourishes give it some depth, though not enough to overcome the pablum surrounding it.
Aside from Henson, the cast is serviceable, but unimpressive. Glover seems most attracted to underwhelming films, having not found suitable material in almost thirty years. Brown is fine as the conflicted ex and Winston is all teenage ticks and reactions, fitting his character, but never embellishing it.
Director Babak Najafi doesn’t seem to know where he should keep or abandon scenes, making the one-hour-twenty-nine-minute film feel like it’s stretched beyond the breaking point. The editor clearly didn’t have enough material to work with and, if he did, what he puts together is far from the best film possible. If Najafi were to work with Henson again, an actual spy thriller might be a suitable team-up for the two. They would definitely need a stronger screenplay to make it work.
Proud Mary is modestly enjoyable for what it is, but that’s not saying a lot. A great film needs a character that you can not only root for, but also have concern for their safety and survival. With few exceptions, Henson’s character is injured, but never to the point where we feel she will fail. That fact is never in dispute. That alone makes the film feel inevitable rather than thrilling and for an action film, that’s not what you want to be.
April 10, 2018