I keep hearing about how Proud Mary is getting buried by its studio and how it’s not fair that Babak Najafi and Taraji P. Henson aren’t getting the proper support behind their project. It wasn’t screened for critics and Sony didn’t allow any Thursday night preview shows. I even met one person this week who, upon learning that one local theater was having projection issues in an auditorium and therefore wasn’t showing the film at all, alleged that two other theaters in town were also claiming that mechanical and/or heating issues were keeping them from running the film on a full schedule. I called those two theaters and discovered that, nope, the film wasn’t being pre-empted and was indeed running all day every day.
So where are all these things coming from? Why would the studio appear to be dumping its product and why are mini-conspiracy theories being floated about how we’re being prevented from seeing the film? Having seen it myself, the truth becomes obvious. It’s January, and the movie simply isn’t all that great to begin with.
Rousing all the cleverness and emotional depth of a network soap opera pilot from 1992, Proud Mary is a wannabe gangster family epic with no real characters or even any core beliefs. Mary herself is almost beside the point, as she is mostly a passive observer to the action around her — when she isn’t murdering all the exact wrong people at exactly the wrong time before wondering aloud what just happened to her. It’s a strange script that constantly threatens to go way too far over the top into what could have been, at the very least, a fun but silly throwaway gag of a movie.
But more often, the goofiness reveals a striking ineptitude of pacing and motivation. The film tries to have it both ways by finally rallying and pulling off what is actually a pretty great action sequence toward the climax that has Mary laying waste to a horde of blurry stunt doubles while Ike and Tina Turner finally explode onto the soundtrack, but it’s driven by a spirit of vengeance and anger that, while explicitly spelled out, is never really earned.
Danny Glover could have had a ball with a nothing role like this, stuck as he is playing the aging Godfather/potential villain for Mary to bounce off and butt up against. But it’s a movie that gives each character big speeches to tell us exactly what they’re thinking and feeling at every moment, then undermines itself by having everything else those characters do pretty much negate all that and make no sense at all.
If nothing else, the sheer bizarre novelty of Taraji P. Henson playing a mob enforcer for the director of London Has Fallen should be good enough for most people, right? It was certainly good enough for me, at least based on the trailers and poster. That we ended up with a lot of potential left on the table maybe wasn’t the biggest surprise, but that doesn’t make it any less of a disappointment.