PROUD MARY ½
2018, R, 89 mins.
Taraji P. Henson as Mary / Jahi Di’Allo Winston as Danny / Danny Glover as Benny / Billy Brown as Tom / Owen Burke as Jerome
Directed by Babak Najafi / Written by Christian Swegal, John Stuart Newman, and Steve Antin
PROUD MARY pulls an annoying game of bait and switch with audiences that's tipped off as early as its opening credit sequence.
montage has the look, sound, and feel of a 1970's exploitation film, which
initially had me hooked. Unfortunately,
and within a few minutes into the film, it becomes abundantly clear that
PROUD MARY is neither set in the 70's, nor does it cheekily embrace its
blaxploitation roots and instead offers up a fairly flavorless and
painfully predictable modern day set action thriller that feels like it's
made up of the spare regurgitated parts of better films that have come
before it. The narrative that
unfolds over the course its relatively short 90 minute running
nevertheless and oddly inspires frequent watch checking, seeing as it's
penned with maximum adherence to tedious action film clichés and
That, and PROUD
MARY is a lamentable waste of star Taraji P. Henson's sizable talents,
which is made all the more shameful seeing as she plausibly inhabits the
role of her kick ass and take no prisoners heroine.
There's nothing inherently wrong with an action film that's driven
solely by a female lead character (as a matter of fact, recent examples
like last year's gloriously underrated ATOMIC
BLONDE proves that we need more), but PROUD MARY shows that girl
powered genre films like this are just as capable of being as pedestrian
and forgettable as any starring a man.
There's a kernel of a compelling angle sewn into the fabric of this
story - cold and heartless hitwoman whose motherly instincts kick in when
presented with watching over a child victim - but PROUD MARY rarely makes
a compelling case for viewers to care about anyone and anything
throughout. The film delivers
in a few scenes of visceral mayhem, but dramatic urgency is wholeheartedly
Henson does what
she can with a criminally underwritten character in Mary, who's an
extremely lethal and effective assassin working for a Boston mob family,
led by crime boss Benny (Danny Glover, refreshingly playing a villain
here), who took her in as a young runaway and taught her how to be a
ruthless killer. The
beginning of the film opens with what appears to be a relatively routine
hit for Mary, but after she commits the final death blow to her target she
realizes, to her dismay, that his young son Danny (Jahi Di' Allo Winston)
is alive and now an orphan. The
boy also never learns that Mary was his father's killer, who later turns
to the streets and embarks on petty crimes for the local Russian mob.
One of its low level scumbags, (Xander Berkeley) beats on the boy
when he doesn't get his jobs done properly, and when Mary learns what has
happened to this abused child she steps in and takes out his lecherous
heel of a boss.
that leads to Mary embarking on a makeshift mother/son relationship with
the disillusioned boy, who's still blissfully unaware that his new savoir
is indeed the same woman that murdered his father and sent him down his
current criminal path. Mary
tries to keep the hot-headed and troubled kid safe, but in the meantime
her unsanctioned hit has drawn attention of both Benny and key members of
the Russian mob, which compels Mary to keep her actions a well guarded
secret from her employer for as long as she can. Unfortunately, one of Mary's ex-lovers - also employed by
Benny, played by Billy Brown - begins to develop some trusts issues with
Mary and has even larger issues with her taking in Danny.
When her hit on Danny's ex-handler is revealed to Benny (not to
mention that Danny is the offspring of the target that was killed
earlier), Mary soon realizes the pressure cooker of a situation that she's
in, caught between both mob families with seemingly no where to run or
As I mentioned
before, we need more female centered
action films. We really
do. Plus, Henson is fully
credible in her role as the conflicted and tightly wound titular
character. She brings enough
teeth clenched tenacity and emotional vulnerability that makes Mary rise
well above the mediocre writing that's on display in the film.
The compelling angle to her character is that she's driven to save
a life while actively and willfully being a part of a crime family that's
frequently responsible for taking lives.
You immediately gain the sense that Mary is a wounded person whose
whole life is driven and defined by violence, which is reflected in
Henson's thankless performance. The
main problem, though, is that the script here does little to embellish her
as a fully fleshed out character; we really learn next to nothing about
Mary as a world weary criminal, which makes her arc to caregiver hard to
give a damn about.
other characters that she's surrounded by are never afforded any more
psychological grit either, especially Mary's old flame, who only seems to
appear in the film as a lazy method to inject some cheaply tailored
conflict into the proceedings.
Glover himself seems distant and reserved in the potentially juicy
role as the mob boss that eventually has a huge axe to grind with his protégée,
and he's barely in the film enough to make a sizeable and lasting
impression as a memorably vicious baddie.
All we are really left with is the core dynamic between Mary and
the boy, which should have been the emotional cornerstone of the
narrative, but PROUD MARY seems a bit reticent to explore their whole
problematic relationship in any intriguing detail.
And when it boils right down to it, the premise here is fairly perfunctory
and on autopilot: A once ruthless killer developing a heart of gold while
caring for a child has been done far better in films like LEON: THE
PROFESSIONAL, which PROUD MARY feels like it's lazily riffing off of.
only thing that could possibly save the paper thin and bland scripting
would be the action scenes, and PROUD MARY most assuredly offers up ample
Aside from a somewhat rousing climax - all unavoidably accompanied
by the vocals of Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" serving as a rousing
anthem to the adrenaline induced carnage -
most of the film's set pieces are awkwardly staged and edited,
mostly because director Babak Najafu (LONDON
HAS FALLEN) fails to give them a smooth sense of rhythm and flow.
Here's another damming problem: Mary emerges as a robotic killing
machine that's able to plough through any target at any time and remain
relatively and laughably unscathed.
She never misses and is virtually never hit.
Thinking back to ATOMIC BLONDE and, for example, its bravura one
take sequence involving its lead character taking on multiple adversaries,
leaving her bloodied and mightily bruised, I was reminded of how susceptible
to pain and injury that character was.
That film was hyper stylized, but the action felt grounded and
gritty, plus its hero was not the invulnerable super woman that Mary is
PROUD MARY would have worked better if it didn't take itself so bloody
seriously and simply adopted and harnessed the type of B-grade grindhouse
vibe that its nifty opening credit sequence promised.
There's ample pleasure to be had in watching a tongue-in-check
celebration of the blaxploitation flicks of yesteryear featuring tough as
nails women taking it too multiple trigger happy male oppressors.
Unfortunately, PROUD MARY is a relatively joyless affair that
rarely generates any interest in its characters and their predicaments,
and the overall lack of conceptual imagination on display here is frankly
this film's undoing.
Henson will emerge from this tiresomely dull action thriller mostly
unscathed, but it's still disappointing to see an actress of her capable caliber
be wasted in direct-to-video quality fare like this.
Even the giddy novelty of the aforementioned climax featuring Tina
Turner urging her to "keep on burning" while mowing down bad guy
after bad guy can't save PROUD MARY from the sheer weight of its