Friday, May 11, 2018

Proud Mary Wastes Taraji P. Henson On Listless Action Fare Disturbingly Light On Action

Centering a whole movie on Taraji P. Henson as an assassin should be one of those guaranteed recipes for success like letting Taika Waititi make a wacky science-fiction comedy about the long-term effects of colonialism or letting Katherine Hepburn act in any movie ever. Tragically, Proud Mary totally squanders the idea of Taraji P. Henson as an action hero by refusing to give either Henson or the audience anything fun to do. The fact that the plot finds bizarrely little time for shoot-out's and other staples of action movie cinema is a key example of how Proud Mary fails to live up to it's potential, though it's far from the only way this motion picture manages to come up short, not by a long shot.

Taraji P. Henson plays Mary Goodwin, an assassin who works for a mob organization run by Benny (Danny Glover). One of the clients she's sent to kill has a son, Danny (Jahi Di'Allo Winston), that is orphaned after Mary takes out his father. Since then, Danny's been a troubled youngster that Mary has kept an eye on from a distance, though she intervenes when Danny gets in over his head in some criminal activity. Helping Danny out like this has made Mary realize that she wants out of the mob life, a prospect that Benny will not allow to happen. Now Mary isn't just fighting for Danny to be free of his criminal ties, she's also fighting to free herself from the mob life she's embroiled in.

The idea of having an experienced hitman being forced to take care of a precocious kid feels like the kind of premise utilized by a direct-to-video sequel to an action movie franchise that's gone on for far too long (to be fair, it also sounds like it could be the starting concept for a Shane Black movie). Channeling the prospective premise of Death Wish 9 does not serve Proud Mary well, especially since it actually wants the viewer to become emotionally invested in the individual plights of Mary and Danny. Both characters are the sort of one-note caricatures that could work well in an entertaining action movie when they're only expected to be fire off guns and cause explosions to go off, but they're also the sort of one-note caricatures that make for thoroughly monotonous drama.

It's totally laughable that Proud Mary thinks that viewers will become engrossed in Mary and Danny's plight as they're written here, but it's more tragic than amusing that Proud Mary fails to give Taraji P. Henson a compelling role to play. Henson is an excellent dramatic actor and she's totally got the conviction and chops necessary to be an action star. She's practically ready-made to portray a character you love to watch kick ass, but instead of giving her the chance to do that, Proud Mary saddles her with a tired plotline packed to the brim with lazy dialogue and predictable character arcs. Under the listless direction of Babak Najafi, Henson just never gets the chance to shine and neither does Danny Glover as one of the movie's villains.

Perhaps the most enraging presence in Proud Mary though is not any of its bad guys but rather from the editing, which rarely, if ever, allows a shot to just linger, we're constantly cutting from one boring medium shot to the next boring medium shot for no good reason. This sloppy editing really hurts the one major action sequence in the entire movie, which is a climactic duel between Mary and some henchman keeping Danny hostage. This is a fight set to the tune of Proud Mary by Tina Turner and the thought of Taraji P. Henson fighting people to the tune of that song sounds like a can't miss proposition for excitement right?

Well, this movie figures out how to bungle that too by way of some poor fighting choreography, lackluster camerawork that makes the fight scenes hard to watch, and worst of all, a tendency to lower the volume of it's accompanying sound at random intervals for no good reason. The one time we actually get something resembling an action sequence in Proud Mary turns out to be a total disaster, making one wonder if it's a blessing in disguise that the movie mostly eschews action for tedious melodrama. Taraji P. Henson and viewers looking for fun action deserve better than Proud Mary, there's no question about that.

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