REVIEW: “Proud Mary”

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Jonathan Montague, Contributing Writer

In the 1970s, blaxploitation films helped to launch the careers of many African-American performers to become household names, such as Rudy Ray Moore and Pam Grier. Every so often, homages are made to this era like Quentin Tarantino’s crime thriller “Jackie Brown” or the parody “Undercover Brother” starring comedy legend Eddie Griffin. Now we have Screen Gems’ newest offering into the genre with “Proud Mary” which, while enjoyable, has some flaws that cause it to fall short.

The film opens on Mary, who works as a contract killer for one of the local crime families. Over time, she grows close to a young orphan named Danny who is trapped in her world. Meanwhile, a split second decision on her part causes the stability of Boston’s underworld to crumble and by the time it’s all over, blood will be on everyone’s hands.

The plot of this film is completely generic. Every turn and twist can be seen coming from a mile away. Because of this, director Babak Najafi made the smart decision to focus on the thing that would carry the story more than anything else — Mary’s relationship with Danny. These two characters slowly but surely gain respect for each other and you truly believe they would make the decisions that drive the plot. This does come at the expense of the relationships with the other characters which sadly do not leave as much of an impact.

This leads to the greatest problem with the movie: the pacing leaves a lot to be decided. The film has a runtime of 88 minutes, which leaves a lot of scenes and shots feeling as if they were supposed to run on longer but were edited for time. Being familiar with some of Screen Gems’ other films, this could have been by studio mandate, but either way, it did not help at all.

As with the story, everything dealing with Mary and Danny acting-wise outshined the film as well. Taraji P. Henson continues to establish herself as a leading lady (something that should have occurred long ago in my opinion). She slips between the loving mother, the hardened warrior and the scared child seamlessly while also providing some excellent comedy. Jahi Di’Allo Winston provides many great nuanced moments and easily gets the most laughs out of the cast. Outside of these two and Billy Brown, however, every other actor appears to be sleepwalking through this film, including model-actor Danny Glover, who gave a more invested performance in “Monster Trucks.”

As for the visuals, while they did not shoot on location, they know how to shoot their version of Boston, from the grungy backstreets to the more posh areas. They manage to get in many locales. The action scenes are standard with the exception of the final sequence, which does provide some decent thrills to the sound of the movie’s namesake cover by Tina Turner. Outside of that song choice, though, the music is as forgettable as the rest of the film.

I do believe that “Proud Mary,” given 15 to 20 minutes more runtime, could have been an excellent film. Instead, the mediocre-at-best pacing compacts the film and the good things about it with too much that should have mattered, but didn’t. If rented, it will be an enjoyable use of your two hours, but I cannot recommend anyone see this in theater beyond a matinee screening.