Well, at least it’s not Death Wish
I saw this movie over a month ago in theaters, and I had initially slotted it down for a low rating before getting preoccupied with video reviews. However, in lieu of yesterday’s Death Wish (2018) review, I decided to revisit this film to see if it was as bad as my initial reaction foretold. Good news is that my opinion of the film has abated somewhat. Bad news is that it’s not by much. So let’s get into Proud Mary.
Mary Goodwin (Taraji P. Henson) is a sharp-dressed assassin working for Danny Glover’s mob organization. While she completes her latest hit, she discovers, to her dismay, that her latest target has a young son named Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) who is now an orphan because of her actions. Over the years, Mary serves as a guardian angel for the boy as he floats around from foster home to foster home and eventually gets caught up in a life of crime himself. While attempting to get Danny out of a dark future, Mary accidentally triggers a gang war between Glover’s gang and the Russian mob. Thus leading Mary on a series of double crosses as she tries to keep herself and Danny alive as well as a way out of their life of crime.
So when the film first starts, we’re treated to some 1970s Blaxploitation-like music and fonts in the vein of something like Shaft or Super Fly. And honestly, not since Undercover Brother have we had a film pay tribute to this once popular genre of a film. Sadly, the movie instead forgets these allusions in favor of something more stylistic akin to John Wick. While slightly disappointing, I initially thought, but I was still in the mood for a female lead in a kick-ass action film, similar to Atomic Blonde, with a very strong actress at the helm to boot. But the filmmakers probably didn’t have the budget, or more accurately the talent (this comes to us via the director of the atrocious London Has Fallen), and we’re provided with a boring slog of a film that thinks itself as an all-Black version of The Departed but is really just a direct-to-Netflix time waster.
Part of the problem comes from the writing, there’s no punch to any of the dialogue and it’s mostly exposition based as characters don’t convey any feelings but instead relate copious amounts of backstory into your bored face. Which is a shame, because all members of the cast (save for Danny Glover) try to ad lib and try to inject the tinniest sliver of personalities into these shallow husks. Taraji P. Henson, in particular, was great in her role, but that’s not really surprising because a) she’s proven herself time and time again to be a solid actress and b) she put down some of her own money into producing this movie. And while I’m sure she was ecstatic about working with a elder veteran like Danny Glover, she should have probably taken notice that he seriously did has not given a shit in any production he’s been involved with, even if it involved slimy monsters for kids. Glover strains his hoarse vocal cords to breaking point in Proud Mary that I kept worrying he was going to go mute after all was said and done. It didn’t help that he just looked bored to be there, which was understandable since the action really wasn’t helping matters.
I’m starting to get really ticked off with wannabe action films failing to deliver on the basic want of entertainment: a good fight scene or a good car chase. It’s mind-bogging to me that with so many production companies acing this desire that we still have lazy efforts. Hell, even bad films are capable of a fun-looking action scene and in fact can make a subpar movie tolerable or even amusingly watchable. But no, Proud Mary sets itself up for multiple gunfights and somehow manage to cock up the very simple cheat of slow-mo by making an already sluggish scene even longer. There’s no excitement to be found even as Henson stumbles around with bullet wounds all over her. That’s partly due to us not caring much about her character of Mary and partly because your mind keeps thinking of your grocery list as you’re watching this mess unfold on screen.
Perhaps with a more imaginative and risk-taker of a director, Proud Mary could have been at the very least a fun little popcorn muncher with more style over substance. But sadly, the style department was only hired to work on marketing for this movie as this film lacks any personality to call its own. And the less I talk about the substance of this piece, the better; God knows why Henson thought hiring a daytime soap opera screenwriter was a good idea, but I don’t have $15 million to blow.
Actually, let me harp on the budget less you think I’m slagging this film off for being a cheap affair. I’ve adored many films made for less than $5 million. But these productions knew what their budget was and rather than attempt some big, flashy set pieces, they instead focused on writing a tight script that keeps the audience engaged with a unique premise. And when a film has to get into action, the director knows how to shoot an exciting set piece with some careful camera placement and clever control of the scene to wring out as much adrenaline as possible. These were options available to Proud Mary, but the film sadly disregarded such advice in favor of something safer and duller by comparison.
The only reason I’m not giving this a low rating was because of Taraji P. Henson. Unlike Death Wish (2018), she showed up to work and did something Bruce Willis failed miserably to do: emote. She showed pride in her work even if the work wasn’t her best. I give respect to thespians when they at the very least try. So with that, I’ll give this a very, very low…