From the opening credits you get a good sense of what “Proud Mary” would like to be. 70’s text effects with bursts of retro yellows and oranges all to the sounds of “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” by the Temptations. But the promise of a modern blaxploitation entry turns into a tease and “Proud Mary” goes off into much more conventional and predictable territory.
A hitwoman who goes by the name Mary (Taraji P. Henson) takes out a target only to discover he has a young son Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston). A year passes and a guilt-ridden Mary keeps tabs on Danny from a distance. He has become a runner for an abusive Boston mobster named Uncle (Xander Berkeley). When Mary finds Danny passed out in an alley her motherly instincts meet her professional killer skills. She secretly takes Danny in and offers up her own special brand of retribution on Uncle.
Mary’s compassionate but impulsive actions inadvertently starts a gang war within the Boston underbelly. She hides her deeds from her mob kingpin mentor Benny (Danny Glover) and his headstrong son Tom (Billy Brown). But keeping things a secret proves to be a tall order especially with Tom (her persistent ex-lover) growing more suspicious. As you can probably guess Mary finds herself in quite the pickle.
“Proud Mary” is a bit of a whirlwind that manages to be both entertaining and disappointing. On the one hand you have Taraji Henson who has the look, attitude, and physicality for this role. She is able to have several good moments in spite of the script which doesn’t always serve her well. Also, you can see the framework for a much better movie, enough to keep things from getting boring.
That leads to the other hand. While I was invested throughout the brisk 88-minute running time, the movie never seems to get out of first gear. Even the action lacks any real punch. Other odd decisions stand out. Several weird edits especially in the first half are hard to figure out. And there are some odd tonal jolts, none bigger than the film’s big action climax with Tina Turner’s rendition of the title song blaring. It doesn’t click.
And getting back to what I said earlier, the story is woefully too conventional and predictable. A new flavor of blaxploitation for modern audiences is something I could get behind. I can’t deny the allure of “Leon: The Professional” meets “Foxy Brown”. “Proud Mary” has the ingredients for it. Unfortunately it goes the more obvious route and suffers for it.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS