How do you screw up this idea: Taraji P. Henson, badass assassin? Let me tell you all the ways Proud Mary does just that.
Proud Mary, directed by Babak Najafi, is one of those movie ideas that looks good on paper—the aforementioned Taraji P. Henson as an ass-kicking hit woman—but then you realize, “Oh, this is being released in January? It must be garbage,” and you’d be right. Let’s be clear about something before we dive in, none of this is Henson’s fault. I’ve loved her since Person of Interest and I was totally looking forward to seeing her kick ass on the big screen. She does her best with what she’s given, but the ultimate problem is the screenplay by John Stewart Newman, Christian Swegal, and Steve Antin.
Judging from the trailers, you’d figure that the film was going to focus completely on Henson and her assassin gig. Unfortunately, the movie quickly devolves into an underworld war that the audience can’t care about in the least because we don’t know who any of these characters are. The irony, of course, is that Mary triggers the war when she saves a kid, Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), she spared on a past assassination job from his abusive drug lord, Uncle (Xander Berkeley). Of course, she never tells anyone that she was saving this kid, because he’s supposed to be dead from when she whacked his father a year ago. So, instead, she pretends that all of this is a shock to her and she throws blame onto an associate of hers, Walter (Neal McDonough), who she kills shortly thereafter with no qualms whatsoever. That makes it kind of hard to root for Mary when she’s perfectly willing to murder an innocent—at least in this case—co-worker because she wants to throw suspicion off herself. In spite of those actions, there are a few moments in the film where Mary demonstrates a strange squeamishness that didn’t jibe with her chosen profession. Basically, Mary works herself into a corner where she finally has to deal with her employer/father figure, Benny (Danny Glover) and his son, Tom (Billy Brown), who is also Mary’s ex-boyfriend.
So, instead of getting something like Atomic Blonde, which was all flash and no substance, but was solidly entertaining, we get something that strives for a deeper story, but we don’t care because the whole thing feels like being thrown into a sequel to a movie that doesn’t exist. Aside from, maybe, Danny, who didn’t ask for any of this crap, there is zero attachment to any of the characters, so it’s tough to get invested in their stupid criminal war that we’ve seen done better a thousand times before. It felt like a bait and switch, as awful movies usually do. I was expecting a kick ass Taraji P. Henson and I got a criminal soap opera with no background. The action is decent and the actors do the best with what they’re given, though. I was pleasantly surprised with Winston’s portrayal of Danny—he doesn’t come across as “annoying child actor” too much. I would love to see Henson in another role like this, but in a film that actually focuses on her and not everything else around her. I swear, the only reason they called this thing Proud Mary was to use the old Ike and Tina Turner song.
Overall, Proud Mary is a huge pass (is it even still playing in theaters?). Henson is far too good a performer to be slumming it in crap like this. She deserves better, as do all the other actors. Skip it.