There has been some discussion about Taraji P. Henson’s new movie, Proud Mary, and how, despite poor reviews, it actually did okay on opening weekend, and how it deserved more of a push than being unceremoniously dumped in the winter boneyard, as it was. By the way it was treated by its studio (Screen Gems has a history of skipping press screenings and that usually works out for their genre fare, favoring bigger opening weekends over review aggregation. But this time, it came across as tone-deaf at best, racist at worst, since it involved burying the rare film headlined by a black woman. Someone should have considered the optics), you would think Proud Mary is the worst movie ever made. It’s not. Proud Mary is fine. Is it good? Not really. But it’s watchable. It’s certainly not “bury in January and pretend like it never happened” bad.
Henson stars as Mary, a hitwoman for some sort of criminal organization in Boston. After completing a hit, she discovers her target had a son, and, guilt-ridden, she follows the kid around for a year before intervening when she finds him unconscious in an alley. So Mary takes the kid, Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), and tries to take care of him, by which I mean she kills everyone in a rival criminal outfit because they were abusing Danny while using him as a drug mule. BLEAK. This sets off a chain reaction of retaliation, and several gun fights, and Henson storming her way through the movie, generally being a lot better than the material she’s been given.
There is something off about Proud Mary. The movie that exists is barely ninety minutes, and is clearly going for a John Wick-type revenge thriller with lots of “gun fu” and minimal story. But there is enough of Mary trying to parent Danny, and diving into Mary’s backstory with her criminal outfit, headed up by Benny (Danny Glover, and it seems like all of his lines were re-recorded in ADR), her own surrogate father, that it seems likely Proud Mary was, at some point, supposed to be more than just action. Screen Gems boss Clint Culpepper has a reputation for tampering with films in editing, and I can’t help but wonder if Proud Mary is the latest victim of studio interference. Because the movie that exists is too plotty and character-driven to work as a John Wick-style action extravaganza. But it’s also skimping on the character development and exposition, so it doesn’t really work as a drama, either. I suspect it was supposed to be a crime drama starring Taraji P. Henson, and got cut down into a John Wick knock-off starring Taraji P. Henson.
What Proud Mary has going for it is Henson. She is GREAT. She’s so good I would like her to get a do-over and front another action movie. She’s believable as an assassin and also as a woman who wants out of the violent life forced upon her. These things are happening in two different movies, but she’s great in both of them. Danny is not as compelling, but kids rarely are (which is why John Wick is about a dog), but again, Henson makes everything around her look better. She just can’t quite save Proud Mary, which isn’t messy so much as missing too many pieces to work as a crime drama, while simultaneously having too many moving parts to qualify as a stripped-down revenge flick. But it’s certainly no worse than your average Liam Neeson action vehicle. I definitely like Proud Mary more than The Commuter.
Attached - Taraji and Liam Neeson on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen last week.