Directed by Babak Najafi
Produced by Tai Duncan/Paul Schiff
Screenplay by John S. Newman/Christian Swegal
First off, I should inform you that the movie has absolutely nothing to do with the classic song written by John Fogarty and made famous by Tina Turner. It’s only purpose is to be blasting on the soundtrack while Taraji P. Henson goes all John Wick on an army of bad guys holding captive a young orphan boy she has more or less adopted as a surrogate son. And since the name of her character is Mary…well, I guess somebody thought it was a cute idea, anyway.
That the young boy, Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) is an orphan is all Mary’s fault in the first place. She’s an assassin in the employ of Benny (Danny Glover) the head of Boston’s Black Mafia. While in the process of carrying out a hit, Mary orphans Danny. She then spends the next year trying to find him as he runs away from Child Services. He ends up in virtual slavery to Uncle (Xander Berkeley) one of the heads of the Russian Mafia. Mary tries to make a deal with Uncle to let the boy go and ends up killing Uncle. Naturally the Russian Mafia thinks that the Black Mafia wants to go to war while the Black Mafia insists they have nothing to do with the killing. Mary has to navigate a minefield of deception and double-crossing both sides as she attempts to prevent an all-out gang war while keeping Danny’s identity a secret from Benny’s son Tom (Billy Brown). Tom is a guy who’s up front about what he wants. He wants to take over the Black Mafia from his dad, he wants to resume his romantic relationship with Mary and most of all he wants to know who the hell this kid is and why Mary is playing mommy to him. I honestly was hoping that Tom would bust out with “Dadgummit, who is he and what is he to you?” which would have said to me that the screenwriters and director would at least have tried to give me what the trailers and opening credits promised.
Because what the trailers promised me was a full tilt boogie Grindhouse/Blaxploitation homage packed with outrageous action on the level of “John Wick” and “Atomic Blonde”. And the opening credits of PROUD MARY are indeed done in the style of vintage 1970s Blaxploitation. They even use the Screen Gems logo from the 1970s.
But after the credits are over and we settle into the story proper, the Blaxploitation is left behind for what is a standard B-Movie crime thriller with a heavy topcoat of melodrama. What lifts it slightly above standard for me is the predominantly black cast (terrific white actors such as Xander Berkeley and Neal McDonough have roles that are little more than cameos) and the chemistry between Taraji P. Henson and Jahi Di’Allo Winston. The more time they spend together the more Mary and Danny find they have in common and the development of the relationship between the two is worth watching. But when is Taraji P. Henson ever not worth watching? I’ve heard some dismiss this as “Oh, it’s just Cookie with a gun” but Taraji’s too good of an actor for that. Mary is a far more thoughtful character, one that is honestly troubled by the course her life has taken and sees Danny as both a way out of her life as a killer and a path to the redemption of her soul.
Where PROUD MARY let me down was in the action. Oh, there’s a couple of great shootouts, especially the one where Mary and Tom assault a summit meeting of mob bosses. When we do get shootouts and action scenes, they’re good ones but there’s not enough of them. Considering the short running time of the movie, I can understand why the director may have wanted to focus on the motivations of the characters and develop their relationships a little more than you would normally find in a movie of this type, but let’s face it…for this type of movie you really don’t need a lot of either.
Taraji P. acquits herself quite well in the action scenes. Enough so that now that she’s got her feet wet in the action genre I sincerely hope she does another one. Give her a bigger budget, an action director at the top of his game and some top shelf fight choreographers and I have no doubt she can deliver an action movie that can blow audiences right through the back of the theater. PROUD MARY isn’t that movie but it is an entertaining and promising start for Taraji P. Henson as an action movie heroine.