Proud Mary | Babak Najafi | January 12, 2018
Proud Mary wants to give Taraji P. Henson her own John Wick-like role, only it forgets to give its talent actress anything to work with. Directed by Babak Najafi (London Has Fallen), Proud Mary doesn’t give its leading lady anything to be proud of in this flat action-vehicle that is bogged down by a lackluster script penned by the trio of John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal, and Steve Antin.
Mary works for a crime family in Boston, and the opening sequence sees her taking out a hit on a gambler who owes the family a huge amount of debt. Only after killing him, she notices his son Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) alone in his room obliviously playing video games. Even as in her line of work she can’t bring herself to hurt a kid and instead takes his photo so she can keep an eye on him during the year that follows.
Only her actions have caused Danny to spiral into a life of crime of his own, under the abusive guidance of a rival gang leader named Uncle (Xander Berkeley). Her maternal instincts kick in as she takes on the responsibility of keeping an eye on Danny and steps in after Uncle crosses the line in with his abusive behavior. Only her actions set off a chain of events that cause tensions to rise between the two rival crime families, when all she wants is to get out so she can start a life of her own, possibly with Danny under her wing.
The story is surely simple enough to follow along but its execution by Najafi is so flat that Proud Mary never finds any momentum. Henson, always a presence on camera, can’t even save this fluffy script and looks like she’s just going through the motions. The same can be said about a bored looking Danny Glover who plays Benny, the head of the crime family that took in Mary when she was a kid in a similar position as Danny. Only he and his son Tom (Billy Brown), don’t give her much choice in leaving the family, acting more like a potential enemy than “family.” This is a scenario that viewers have seen played out in countless of other crime films, only handled in smarter and more entertaining fashion.
Problems with the script plague the whole film. One particular fumbled moment comes with Benny and the family’s decision to kill one of their own members, a decision that should shock and hit hard. Instead, it comes off as a laughable afterthought as he only has one scene beforehand giving the murder absolutely no impact whatsoever. The heart of the story is supposed to be in the relationship between Mary and Danny but their relationship never feels earned and all the moments that were supposed to be the emotional thread just don’t resonate. Considering that this is supposed to be the heart and soul of the entire movie, this is a major problem.This choppy execution, unfortunately, becomes a routine problem and the film never finds proper footing to recover.
Apparently, the script is set in Boston, but aside from a few signs that say so, and the occasional landmark, you never get a sense for the environment or any of the story’s surroundings. Sure, there are a few passable action sequences (even if the soundtrack is a bit too on-the-nose), but cinematographer Dan Laustsen and Najafi don’t shoot any of it with any noticeable cinematic flair or style. It pained me to learn that Laustsen is the same guy who shot The Shape Of Water, Crimson Peak, and John Wick 2. It all looks flat to the point that you wouldn’t be wrong for mistaking this to be a straight-to-DVD production not to mention some noticeably poor editing.
Ultimately, the biggest crime Proud Mary commits is that it’s so average a viewing experience that it’s boring to the point of being numbingly forgettable. It’s not the worst thing you’ll see all year, but it’s so mediocre that you’re hit with a wave of indifference, even during its big climatic shoot-out sequence that you’ve seen handled ten times better in pretty much any other action vehicle in the past six months. If you’re indifferent to the story and the action doesn’t wow you, what else does it have left to offer?