Sometime last month I was at the theater with my partner (and occasional blog contributor) Liza, and we saw a trailer that comprised solely of Taraji P Henson shooting guns, and performing other action movie tropes. I turned to her and asked, “What do you think that movie is about?” Neither of could come up with anything. There was no indication of who this character was, who she was shooting at, or why. I think it was trying to be coy and mysterious, but there wasn’t even enough information teased out to prompt the kinda curiosity that mystery demands. It was just an actress shooting other nameless actors. At the time I thought it was poor marketing. If you’re trying to get me to see a movie, why not tell me what the movie is other than “an action movie.” But after seeing the film, Proud Mary, and rewatching the trailer, I’ve changed my mind. The trailer’s editor and the marketing team actually did a decent job. Declaring, “this is an action movie” and revealing nothing of the plot or characters, implying it is a mystery to be revealed later, is the most generous way to represent this movie. To reveal any details would immediately expose it as the hollow, charmless, slog it is.
Proud Mary follows Henson’s Mary, a professional hitwoman working for an organized crime family. When she discovers one of her hits has left a young boy an orphan. She feels guilty, and when she discovers the boy has turned to a life of crime himself, she takes him in. This leads to trouble with a rival gang. There’s some vague drama about territory, and the thinnest allusion to interpersonal drama between Mary and her fellow gang members. It doesn’t really matter. This movie isn’t about anything.
I didn’t expect much from this film. Like I said, the trailer didn’t inspire much confidence and an early January release date never means anything good. But I was excited for what might be decent, mindless fun. I don’t think an action movie needs to be particularly deep or well written to be enjoyable. Style and mood can go a long way in this genre, and can even carry a whole film. (Atomic Blonde is an example that comes to mind. It’s totally incomprehensible and soulless, but I enjoyed it nonetheless).
This film has no character. Stylistically it draws more from televisions crime procedurals than anything else. The location is a blank slate, your generic city- it took me reading the wikipedia to know it took place in Boston. The set pieces take place in rooms and on streets. Shady apartments and warehouses. The characters are dressed in black coats and brown hoodies over grey shirts. The editing is awkward throughout, and at times bafflingly bad. At one point a scene ends and the film cuts to a new location- a nighttime establishing shot…then immediately to the same shot at day time. The passage of time at this location isn’t particularly important. It almost felt like a mistake that was never corrected. When there’s finally a break from the generic TV drama droning music for an upbeat pop song, clearly meant to ramp up to an imminent action scene, it’s undercut when the music’s volume awkwardly dips for a line of dialogue. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with such a glaring, noticeable issue in the sound mix.
What’s sad is that the opening credits really primes you for the goofy fun time this movie should have been. The best thing I can say about Proud Mary is the motion graphics and title design are on point. It’s bright colors and groovy fonts imply a 70s-throwback. This aesthetic is even used in the posters (both of which, are pretty cool), but the moment the opening montage ends, the moxie of bright orange block text disappears, never to return.
I give Proud Mary 2 empty warehouses out of 10 back alleys.