By: Will Ashton (Four Beers) –
Proud Mary. Oh, what you could’ve been. You had promise. A cool poster. One badass trailer. You had Taraji P. Henson in the titular role, one that could’ve easily been on par with John Wick or Shaft. But you dropped the ball. Big time. You’re a modern blaxploitation homage with lots of attitude but little spunk. You’re a free-wheeling, high-speed, no-nonsense thriller that’s needlessly heavy and bogged down. You had one simple job: give us a fast-moving, no-frills action crowdpleaser that kicks butt and fires bullets. But you blew it. What should’ve been a new franchise to celebrate has turned into a big, mediocre bore. Proud Mary could’ve been the year’s first surprise. Instead, it’s 2018’s first disappointment. Bummer.
The set-up is strong. Mary (Henson) is a skillful, headstrong assassin living in the heart of Boston. She drives a cool car, she’s an excellent shot, and she works for one of the most organized and dangerous crime families in the area, led by Benny Spencer (Danny Glover). Adopted into the family and raised from a young age into her lethal art, Mary is successful, ruthless, but very alone, failing to make any meaningful connections in her life when she spends most of her time killing others. But when a job several years ago finds her orphaning a young boy, she feels compelled years later to raise that boy under her own wing. The child in question, Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), is a cocky, self-dependent urchin who helps deal drugs on the streets and gets involved with all kinds of bad people, namely the local Russian mob. Mary takes it upon herself to settle the score, but in doing so, she sparks a bigger rivalry among the criminals in town.
With that, Mary begins to act as both an angel and a devil, continuing her misgivings with the crime family, which also includes Tom (Billy Brown), Benny’s son and Mary’s former lover, while serving as a guardian angel for young Danny. But being good and being bad is not a great way to live, and in the process, more people get mowed down and Mary needs to make some big decisions quickly that’ll alter her life forever.
It’s a simple, straightforward premise. It should be pretty fun, right? See, that’s where you’re wrong.
Proud Mary has a few things going for it. The opening credits, for instance, which are beautifully and evocatively designed in a cool, retro ’70s style, perfectly help set the mood for the proceedings. They also, subsequently, get you pumped for a brash, exciting movie that, for the most part, you’re not going to see in Proud Mary. But we’ll talk about that in just one second. When the action does get going in Proud Mary, it can be pretty thrilling and kinetic. Henson is a fantastic screen presence, as she has proven several times by now, and she more than proves her action chops in this title role. If there are better action movies out there, please get Henson involved. She’s great. She’ll ace it. But the other supporting performances, from a rising young Winston to an old but well-established Glover, also provide strong, dependable acting in this underwhelming film that doesn’t know how to utilize their talents well.
The editing in Proud Mary is terrible. Just terrible. So many scenes, namely the ones centered around the crime family, are chopped together as if you’re watching the movie at 1.5x speed. It just doesn’t flow. It’s as if director Babak Najafi is trying to rush through the plot as quickly as possible — which would be fine, maybe even good, if the action itself were consistent, engaging, and possibly even well-done. But it’s not.
The plot is stuffed with trite crime family dynamics and heavy melodrama, none of which is very effective. The action that is presented here is clunky, gracelessly filmed, and oddly workmanlike. There’s little fun to how the scenes are shot and presented. And boy oh boy, is this movie melodramatic. There are long, very dull, and drawn-out scenes of characters effort-fully stretching out this stale, binary plot at hand. It’s as if the action scenes are often an afterthought in the grand scheme of things, and that’s a real damn shame.
When the needle drops and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” finally drives its way into the soundtrack, it’s supposed to be a celebratory, exhilarating moment, one the movie earns after 90 minutes of pulpy fun. But when the movie finally brings that titular track into Proud Mary, it feels obligatory. It’s a moment you’re waiting for throughout this entirely dull film, and when it comes, it’s met with little fanfare and with little of the balls-to-the-walls excitement found in that dynamic trailer from six months earlier. It’s a false moment, and the underwhelming action that transpires during its play only makes it worse. It’s something that completely sums up everything that’s bland and disappointing about this January release. It’s as if the movie stripped itself of everything that could’ve — and damn well should’ve — been fun here. Because there are many things Proud Mary should be. Boring ain’t not one of them. That’s for absolute certain.
It’s not fun to write this kind of review. Sure, early reviews suggested Proud Mary was going to be a disappointment. The studio’s lackluster theater rollout for the film let us know they didn’t have trust in it. The telltale signs were all there. But watching the movie, and seeing all the firm potential be completely evaporated right before your own eyes, is another thing. It’s a movie that leaves you with nothing. No joy. No fun. No anger. No pity. All it gives you is a big heaping of boredom, and that’s not right. After a promising opening, Proud Mary kills your enthusiasm and it drives away with you left empty-handed.
Proud Mary (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Mary shoots someone dead.
Take a Drink: every time Mary scolds Danny for acting out.
Take a Drink: every time you wish these actors were in a better film.
Take a Drink: every time the characters get super melodramatic.
Take a Drink: every time the movie shows off Mary’s swanky apartment.
Do a Shot: whenever Proud Mary finally plays “Proud Mary.”