- Product Rating -

Proud Mary

| January 22, 2018

I don’t think there’s any doubt from anyone with a basic sense of awareness that diversity in popular culture is lacking. There has been, at least, an uptick in representation over the 2010s, but that’s largely within independent fare. One step adjacent—but not ahead—to that is a January studio action movie, and Proud Mary seems to be another scuffle to the side in such a progression. Led by a certified badass and dripping in ‘70s nostalgia for only the opening credits, it’s something that could and should work if with the help of something else, but that something else doesn’t exist. We need more movies with female leads; we need more movies with leads of color. But we also need to and can do better than this.

Named after and (obviously) featuring the titular song, the film follows Mary Goodwin (Taraji P. Henson), a Boston hitwoman always donning head-to-toe leather and parking her conspicuously badass car in plain sight. One day during a job ordered by her superior (a half-asleep Danny Glover), things go awry and she’s forced to take care of a now-orphaned kid named Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) while the two are under pursuit from the mob. If it sounds generic, it’s because it is, instantly abandoning its blaxploitation influences and settling on dragging its feet through the muddy motions for some of the longest 88 minutes in recent years.

In a way, it’s what you would expect from Babak Najafi (London Has Fallen), whose reigns here seem to have sabotaged the attempts of everyone else involved. Henson, first and foremost, clearly has what it takes to be an action star, but her charisma is weighed down by the direction as well as the script from Steve Antin, Christopher Swegal, and John Stuart Newman, the latter two of whom make their feature debuts here. Henson, an Oscar-winner and the star of one of television’s most popular dramas on the air right now, is relegated to dripping repetitive one-liners and kicking ass to a grand total of two action scenes, both of which seem to have been shot without choreography.

Instead of embracing the kitsch that it at first claims to love, Proud Mary is plot-heavy in the worst way, revolving around characters that aren’t so much in the periphery as much as they are in the blind spots. Aside from glimmers of the mother-son relationship between Mary and Danny, which comes its closest to salvation by way of Henson and Winston’s performances, there’s no emotional core and, just as fatally, no sense of fun or craftsmanship. The editing from Evan Schiff (John Wick: Chapter 2) may be enough to induce nervous breakdowns at points, even in its quieter moments, of which there are far too many. Similarly, the entire picture is a faded eyesore, a shortcoming made maddening by its being from the very talented Dan Laustsen (Crimson Peak, The Shape of Water). In fact, it begs the question: did the filmmakers not know how to light people of color?

Above all, the issue with Proud Mary is that it’s a dreck, an utter smear of boredom over the silver screen. Not only is it impossible to care about, but it essentially dares you to close your eyes until something even remotely interesting happens. When that comparably sacred moment finally graces the audience with its lameness, it’s difficult to follow given the lack of spatial awareness granted by Najafi’s direction and exacerbated by Schiff’s editing, which is leagues deadlier than any baddie Mary ever comes across. The experience under the belts of already established filmmakers makes for something this banal hard to forgive, but despite the failure of it all, Henson’s presence here is something to be pitied. Maybe this can be chalked up as her learning experience within the genre—maybe this can be her Æon Flux. Hopefully she’ll get her own Atomic Blonde in the future, but hopefully it won’t take eleven and a half years for such a redemption to occur.

About the Author:

Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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