Taglines: Execute with style.
The action thriller “Proud Mary” begins by trying to establish some retro cred, with a vintage Motown tune on the soundtrack (the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” not thematically apt but rhythmically bubbling nevertheless) and a title typeface that recalls the one used in the 1974 blaxploitation picture “Foxy Brown.” Under the credits, Taraji P. Henson, as the title character, showers, dresses, puts on makeup and selects a bright blond wig from her wardrobe. Oh, and she also selects a formidable-looking handgun from the formidable arsenal behind her wardrobe.
After which she goes on her mission, quickly dispatching a guy who barely gets a chance to gape at her wig. In a room elsewhere in the man’s apartment, she sees a young boy, headphones blocking his hearing, obliviously playing a video game. This gives her pause. But she doesn’t intervene in the kid’s life, not just yet. Instead, a year goes by, and Mary discovers the kid, Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), is a runner for a Boston drug dealer referred to only as Uncle. After discovering the boy wounded and starving in an alley, she takes an unorthodox approach to adoption, rubbing out Uncle in a flash of anger.
Proud Mary is a 2018 American action thriller film directed by Babak Najafi, from a screenplay written by John S. Newman and Christian Swegal. The film stars Taraji P. Henson, Billy Brown, Danny Glover, Neal McDonough, Xander Berkeley, Margaret Avery, and Jahi Di’Allo Winston, and follows an assassin who must look after a young teenaged boy after a hit job goes wrong.
In the United States and Canada, Proud Mary was released on January 12, 2018, alongside The Commuter and Paddington 2, as well as the wide expansion of The Post, and was projected to gross around $20 million from 2,125 theaters in opening weekend. It made $3.2 million on its first day and $10 million over the weekend, finishing 8th at the box office and last among the new releases.
Film Review for Proud Mary
Released the second week in January, and not provided advance screenings for press (I have learned that the journalists sent to conduct interviews were also denied screenings), Babak Najafi’s Proud Mary, put out by Screen Gems, is yet another film in a long tradition of studio burial. And while this practice may have some audiences crying foul, it’s certainly worth considering that studios only typically do this when they know they have a dud on their hands; there are very few instances where critics are barred from a potentially undiscovered classic. Having seen it at a late-night screening, I’m afraid to report that Proud Mary is certainly a dud.
The opening credits for Proud Mary leave one full of hope. The funkified soundtrack and bubbly gold/orange 1970s graphic design underline a badass montage wherein Taraji P. Henson dons sleek leather clothing, carefully applies her assassin’s eyeliner, and gears up with elaborate, toaster-sized firearms. One may find themselves immediately optimistic that audiences will be treated to 89 minutes of Henson – one of the most vivacious and spirited actresses currently working – systematically and thrillingly gunning down scads of bad guys with no small amount of unflappable cool. An Atomic Blonde for the retro-blaxploitation set.
Sadly, the film that follows that wonderful title sequence is a largely action-free slog wherein Mary (Henson), a long-term assassin for the local Boston baddies, tasks herself with caring for a 12-year-old boy named Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) whom she orphaned a year ago. Danny is in the employ of a slimy Russian mob guy (Xander Berkeley) who gives him guns and sends him on drug delivery trips. Mary, as penance, will take Danny under her wing, but not before murdering said Russian mob guy, potentially sparking a mob war or, at the very least, angering her own boss (Danny Glover) and his hothead son (Billy Brown).
Mary moves Danny into her posh, catalogue-ready apartment, feeds him, and begins a battery of good-natured sniping which contains exactly zero charm. Why Mary never bothered to care for this boy over the course of the previous year – a year when he was beaten on the regular, and a year when she had his photo – the film’s screenplay never bothers to address.
Proud Mary lays inert, squandering its star and presenting its story in what is perhaps the most blandly efficient fashion I am sure to witness this year. Henson and Winston, ostensibly meant to form a bickersome familial bond, have no chemistry, and one never gets the sense that an actual relationship is forming; we have to take the characters’ word for it that they are having warm feelings. What’s more the actual mob plot feels like it was lifted, already assembled, from 100 other mob films over the last few decades.
The film’s climax, wherein Henson gets to hop in a speeding Maserati and fire guns out the window, is a welcome release to the film’s forgettable plot-heavy monotony, but even then, the action feels rote. Director Najafi previously directed the largely awful London Has Fallen, another film with dull characters and rote action scenes, but that at least had the decency to be obscenely violent and amusingly morally irresponsible.
Proud Mary, while rated R, seems to be holding back on its potential sensationalist mayhem, keeping a lot of the violence quick and obscured. Even Proud Mary’s blood seems to have been color-corrected to be darker and less blood-like (a technique often used by studios to secure a more family-friendly rating). If you have Taraji P. Henson, the wherewithal to invoke the badass funk films of the ’70s, and the willingness to murder a pile of bad guys, then why not have some fun with it? Such a pity.
Continue Reading and View the Theatrical Trailer
Proud Mary (2018)
Directed by: Babak Najafi
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Billy Brown, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Neal McDonough, Margaret Avery, Xander Berkeley, Rade Serbedzija, Erik LaRay Harvey, Therese Plaehn, Alex Portenko, James Milord
Screenplay by: John Stuart Newman, Christian Swegal
Production Design by: Carl Sprague
Cinematography by: Dan Laustsen
Film Editing by: Evan Schiff
Costume Design by: Deborah Newhall
Set Decoration by: Jennifer Engel
Music by: Fil Eisler
MPAA Rating: R for violence.
Distributed by: Sony ScreenGems
Release Date: January 12, 2018