By Andrew Cripe, Movie Critic
January is the cinematic dumping-ground month for movies that have no business being in theaters. “Proud Mary” is the sort of film you wouldn’t even watch on Netflix as background noise while you do other things.
It may catch a viewer’s attention for a split second, as it stars the great Taraji P. Henson (“Hidden Figures”) and the wonderful Danny Glover (“Lethal Weapon”), but the film does not capitalize on the power of these performers. It flounders, wastes away, and stings anyone who held out a little hope that it could be a tucked-away gem in a month of forgettable, lazy movies.
The only thing “Proud Mary” succeeds in being is embarrassing. It possesses the uncanny ability of making the viewer regret every minute spent watching it. It isn’t egregiously, aggressively awful, but it barely feels like a film.
Worse, it barely feels like entertainment. What’s most frustrating is that shreds of potential exist, but they’re buried under dialogue so stilted and camerawork so shoddy it makes the actors look like they’re performing under duress. The movie doesn’t have a flow.
The editing is so terrible that some scenes look unintentionally sped up, momentarily startling the viewer into thinking they’ve sat on the fast forward button in a big-screen theater. Nothing seems to work.
The film opens with Mary (Henson), a paid assassin, killing a man who is in deep debt with the mob she works for. She soon realizes that the man she’s killed has a son who is now orphaned because of her, and her conscience kicks in. She takes the troubled youth, Danny (Jahi Di'Allo Winston) into her care.
By protecting and caring for Danny, she puts both of them in trouble with her boss, Benny (Danny Glover). By confronting her boss, she is also forced to face the trappings of her violent career. If any of that sounded interesting in concept, it unfortunately isn’t in execution.
Lots of little things nag at the viewer like how Mary is notorious for being a cold blooded, prolific contract killer, yet it only occurs to her with Danny that most of the people she kills have families. Cheesy, bothersome inconsistencies like this bubble up every few scenes and they’re problematic in the first place because the film isn’t entertaining enough to distract the viewer.
A movie like this prays that audiences are mindless and won’t notice all of its faults, but they’re not, they’re just open to suspending their disbelief so they can enjoy a cool story and some good action. “Proud Mary” has neither, so the viewer is left instead noticing everything that’s glaringly wrong with the whole mess.
A desperate sense of generosity kicks in as the viewer searches for something, anything, redeeming about the film, like the appearance of legendary actor Danny Glover as a mob boss, or the talent of child actor Jahi Di’Allo Winston that’s only noticeable when the film manages to be coherent.
The film sabotages all these little graces, though, and what “Proud Mary” is left with is its biggest disappointment: the underutilization of Taraji P. Henson. She isn’t bad in the film because her performance is lacking, but because director Babak Najafi (“London Has Fallen”) has no faith in her abilities.
The movie doesn’t give her performance or character time to breathe and develop a personality beyond cliches. The whole film depends on her being gripping, but everything from the direction to the writing sabotages the effort.
That lack of faith is emblematic of the whole film. If the film has no faith in its leading star, why should the viewer? If the film has no faith in its story, why should the viewer? “Why’s” like these are littered throughout the film, and by the time the credits role the viewer is left with the biggest, most damning one of them all: “why did I even watch this?”