April 2024

Proud Mary (2018)

DIRECTOR: Babak Najafi

CAST: Taraji P. Henson, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Billy Brown, Danny Glover, Xander Berkeley, Neal McDonough, Rade Sherbedgia


One strongly suspects Proud Mary would have been straight-to-video fare if not for the presence of multi-Emmy and Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson in the title role, and that’s where the quality level lies.  Proud Mary is an enjoyable enough diversion in the moment, but a generic and uninspired shoot-em-up that doesn’t offer anything memorable.

Our title character Mary (Taraji P. Henson), a hitwoman working for crime boss Benny (Danny Glover) and his son—and her ex-lover—Tom (Billy Brown) is a cool and efficient killer, but has been wracked with guilt since inadvertantly orphaning a young boy, Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) a year ago.  Since then, she’s been discreetly keeping tabs on him through his troubled life in and out of foster homes and falling in with Russian mobsters who use him as a drug-running errand boy, but when he collapses injured in an alleyway one day, Mary finally steps in, hiding him away in her apartment and confronting his bosses.  But when things escalate into a shootout, it ignites a gang war between Benny and the Russians, with Mary and perhaps Danny as well caught in the middle.

Proud Mary promoted itself as a tongue-in-cheek homage to 1970s Blaxploitation flicks, and indeed the stylized, intentionally retro opening credits make us feel like we’re about to watch Shaft or a Tarantino movie.  Alas, this raises expectations of a style the movie itself is sorely lacking.  The bonding between Mary and Danny is meant to provide an emotional core, but that and the thinly-developed plot and threadbare characters exist as a skeletal framework to string together sporadic generic shoot-em-ups (which are mildly engaging but nothing special).  At least one plotline is set up and then apparently forgotten about by the end (Rade Sherbedgia’s Russian mob boss makes one appearance and then never shows up again).  Babak Najafi (who previously directed the equally unimpressive London Has Fallen) films the shootouts competently enough to be moderately engaging, but doesn’t bring anything special, and the film’s seemingly low budget shows (we alternate repetitively between primarily a couple of locations, Mary’s apartment and Benny’s office building).  Inevitably, the Ike and Tina Turner song that gives the movie its title plays out over the climactic shoot-em-up, but apart from that and the Tarantino-esque opening credits, any other moments with a sliver of flair are fleeting.

The best thing about the movie is Taraji P. Henson, who’s a capable enough actress with enough screen presence to get us to buy her as a conflicted-yet-badass assassin.  We could use more bad-ass action heroines (or maybe anti-heroines, in this case), but it’s unfortunate that Henson’s chance to show her bad-ass credentials is squandered in a movie that’s beneath her.  No one else is noteworthy.  Jahi Di’Allo Winston is adequate as Danny.  The few recognizable actors onhand—Danny Glover, Rade Sherbedgia, Xander Berkeley, Neal McDonough—are all making walk-on roles picking up paychecks, and nobody seems to be making much of an effort apart from Henson (Sherbedgia zips in and out in about two minutes, and seems noticeably to be rushing through his lines, as if he can’t wait to get out of here).

There’s not much to say about Proud Mary.  It’s possible to see how, with a little more effort, it might have been something more colorful.  Alas, with the exception of Taraji P. Henson (who seems to be taking her material about as seriously as can be expected, and maybe more than it deserves), everyone involved both behind and in front of the camera seemed content to apathetically play it by rote, and the result is a movie so generic and uninspired that one wonders what the point was of making it in the first place.

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