Sometimes it takes mere seconds for awfulness to unveil itself. So it goes with Proud Mary, which quickly establishes that its only proximity to truly blaxploitative inspiration comes from appropriated aesthetics in the opening credits and that it comes to you from the director of London Has Fallen.
One marvels, though, at effort made to suck the simple thrill out of putting guns in Taraji P. Henson’s hands as Mary, a contract killer who grows a conscience after she kills the father of a young boy. Part of the issue? Her first big action sequence comes at the side of a man. Anyone who enjoyed Henson in damn near anything knows she’s perfectly capable of doing bad all by herself. Anyway, Mary proceeds to strike down upon with great vengeance those who would attempt to poison the mind of the boy, now navigating the streets on his own, and destroy her Maserati.
Let’s talk about that Maserati. Short of a Humvee, is there a less inconspicuous car a contract killer could drive? The Maserati is invisible, too. Or at least it would seem that way, leaving the scene of any number of suspicious deaths — even those Mary deals out among the Family who cross her. Yes, that’s what three writers conjured for the name of Mary’s syndicate employers. The Family. One of them is named Uncle. Not Uncle Something. Just Uncle.
Another Family member is played by Neal McDonough, a presumed kiddie-fiddler with one scene of brief dialogue before he’s shot by another character while jogging. Benny presides over the Family. He’s played by Danny Glover, on whose lisp the cruel trick of the consecutive words “understandably upset” is played. Poor Danny Glover. The Family also apparently has an interesting insurance plan, given that one of its lackeys can be admitted to intensive care without drawing attention after a drive-by during a turf war of torpor … but Mary has to administer self-surgery after a siege.
Let’s get back to that Maserati. It also proves resourceful to absorb about 9,637 rounds of ammunition meant for Mary’s body and seems to survive a driverless, reverse-gear explosion — all after striking approximately seven henchmen who stand waiting for it to strike them. Remarkable.
Also: Did you know that no one in Boston closes their blinds? All the better, perhaps, to blow out the faces of the performers with the misfortune to not be facing them during Proud Mary. It’s a bizarrely inexcusable screw-up from director of photography Dan Laustsen, sure to be an Oscar nominee soon for The Shape of Water. Even cinematographers can have a Norbit.
Proud Mary is also one of those movies in which you wish you could watch the better option one character checks out on the TV. Here, it’s Bad Boys II — the last in a presumably expired franchise despite occasional resurrections. If showing the movie here represents some sort of in-joke that Sony was ever considering handing that property over to the people responsible for Proud Mary, well, better off dead.
Indeed, the only thing swifter than vengeance here is the revelation of how rotten it is. At least you’ll never lose one minute of sleeping worrying about the way things might have been. But you may wish to test-drive a Maserati.