January is a fascinating month for movies. On the one hand, you begin to see the limited release award season films trickle into mainstream theaters. On the other, you are overwhelmed with an influx of all of the garbage that studios have no idea what to do with. It is because of this that you can walk into a theater and need to decide between seeing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Insidious: The Last Key, or between The Shape of Water and The Commuter. Sometimes, you have to choose between seeing The Post and Proud Mary. If you find yourself facing this particular choice, learn from my mistakes and choose The Post. In fairness, I haven’t seen it yet, but I have seen Proud Mary.
Proud Mary is an action film in the vein of recent hits like John Wick and Atomic Blonde. It follows the titular Mary, a hitwoman for a gang in Boston. A year ago, whilst on a hit, she discovered that the man she had just killed had a son (as in fact many people do). She then spends the next year essentially stalking this boy out of guilt, and eventually saves him from the abusive boss of a rival gang for whom the boy had been working. Mary and young Danny must now learn to trust one another, lest their secrets get them killed.
If that sounds like a fairly derivative plot, you would be right. If it sounds like a generally interesting one, you would be sadly mistaken. Proud Mary seems to be the answer to the question “What if we made an action movie as boring and uninteresting as possible?” Do you enjoy watching action in your action movies? If so, you too may find yourself 45 minutes into this 88-minute film wondering how much longer it can possibly go.
I was immediately bewildered to see that the very beginning of the film is nearly identical to the opening of The Nice Guys. Same song, same timing, same feel. Tragically though, this was not to be The Nice Guys. What followed was a very energetic, almost frantic opening credits sequence. Colors shift, and sections of the screen slide around to meet one another in a sort of comic book inspired neo-Bond opening that was actually rather unique. Sadly, as soon as this intro ended, all semblance of style or originality vanished. Had any of those elements been reincorporated even once, this would be a very different review.
Every single character (though I hesitate to call them that) is flat and lifeless. Even the reliably phenomenal Taraji P. Henson can’t save Mary from being about as bland as unbuttered toast. The young actor who plays Danny swings back and forth between surprisingly charming and distractingly melodramatic. Easily the most enjoyable character to watch is Benny, portrayed by a lethargic Danny Glover. He seems to be either acting through an Ambien induced stupor, or a thick wall or apathy. Or maybe he just saw Proud Mary and couldn’t quite wake up.
The most disappointing thing about Proud Mary is that it actually had potential. Not only is the idea of a Black female-led action film wildly appealing, but there have been a string of excellent action films released in the past few years. Mad Max Fury Road was a masterpiece, John Wick was stylish and efficient, and Atomic Blonde was just as stylish as Wick, and showcased Charlize Theron at her most badass. The last few years have been very kind to the pure-action genre.
What all of these films have in common are vision, style, and impressive choreography. La La Land shot a full musical number on an actual freeway in Los Angelas, complete with dozens of dancers and stunt performers. The sequence was done in one take, with no cuts. This and the many other one-shot dance numbers in the film made the rapid cuts and frantic camera movements of The Greatest Showman feel almost lazy by comparison. Similarly, the long, single-shot action sequences on display in movies like John Wick and Atomic Blonde make Proud Mary feel like a film made by interns. If Atomic Blonde were produced for the Hallmark channel, this would be it.
I had considered devoting a paragraph to the script, but why should I put in more effort than the writers did?
I almost wish that this film had been Justice League bad, or even Valerian bad rather than the filmic equivalent of Danny Glover’s Ambien. But every plot point is painfully predictable, every conversation so excruciatingly dull, and every fight so depressingly mediocre that it fails even to be particularly entertaining. It is not incompetent and is ironically all of the worse for it. Instead, it reaches upwards towards mediocrity, and occasionally finds its grip, but seems incapable of doing the requisite chin-up required to climb any higher.