Thursday, January 18, 2018

Left A Good Job In The City

Year: 2018
Director: Babak Najafi
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Billy Brown, Jahi Di'Allo Winston 
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I'm so happy that the world at large has now noticed Taraji P. Henson enough to allow her to star in a major action film. I'm so happy that, looking at the trailer package that played before Proud Mary, there seems to be a steadier and steadier trickle of movies starring women kicking ass, and that some of them are even not white. I'm also happy that the director the studio chose to helm this project is of Iranian descent. I'm glad millions of dollars are being spent on telling these stories with these people. I just wish Proud Mary didn't suck, on top of all that.

Baby steps, baby steps.

Proud Mary stars off promisingly enough. Mary (Taraji P. Henson) is a hit woman for a black crime family in what appears to be Boston, and when she pulls a hit on a bookie, she discovers that he has left behind a young son named Danny (Jahi Di'Allo Winston). Wracked with guilt (but not so wracked that she didn't wait a year to do this), she eventually houses Danny in her apartment after he falls in with Uncle (Xander Berkeley), a Russian mobster and her family's prime nemesis.

Thus begins a maudlin drama of wills as she tries to become the mother Danny desperately needs while he resists the cozy domesticity she offers, because the only life he knows is the streets, man. So she murders Uncle and a bunch of his goons, igniting a gang war the likes of which these streets have never seen (i.e. boring). She must navigate her jealous ex Tom (Billy Brown) and his crime lord father Benny (Danny Glover) to get out of the game for good and help Danny escape the life that she built for herself and trapped him in.

And occasionally she wears this wig she bought from the Atomic Blonde secondhand shop on the corner.

Proud Mary starts off promisingly, and by that I literally mean its opening credits. Using the same color scheme and stylistic patterning of the poster you see above, it promises an almost Tarantino-esque blaxploitation riff; a 70's throwback that combines modern sensibilities with a retro, guns-blazing flair. That's what all the marketing would have you believe, but this movie is less Pam Grier and more Judy Greer, in that Henson is wasted in a role that has no idea what to do with her.

I guess I should have seen it coming. Although those credits have energy and gusto, honestly they're kind of... bad. The concentric shapes emitting from each image obscure what we're actually supposed to be looking at, the editing is too choppy to bother keeping track of it anyway, and everything is lit into a uniform brown mush. And then the 70's scheme is instantly dropped through a trapdoor, never to be seen again until the inevitable "Proud Mary" needle drop, which this movie does not earn.

What we do get is a heaping helping of non-starter drama wherein Taraji P. Henson and a little boy grouse at each other in a variety of thrilling action setpieces such as Closet, Clothes Store, and Hot Dog Cart. You might have paid for your whole seat but you'll only need the edge, because you'll be so antsy to get the hell out of the theater. And when the few-and-far-between action sequences do stop hitting the snooze button and rear their ugly heads, they're pretty uniformly unimpressive.

Yeah, the lighting and the editing and the blocking and the stunts and the music are generally underwhelming, but most importantly, nobody seems to have taught Ms. Henson how to hold a gun. She brandishes them one-handed like the Tin Man pre-oil, and it's mighty distracting. I'm not usually a stickler about gun use in movies, because I couldn't possibly care less, but it's hard to take it seriously when she's play-acting an action sequence like a five-year-old who just watched The Expendables

And literally every production still involves her holding a gun like she's pointing the way to the restrooms. Whose idea was this entire thing?

What were they doing with this movie? They assembled a great cast (Margaret Avery also shows up for a scene to cut some cake and generally be totally useless to the plot, though she does deliver from on high a wig so incredible that its handler gets a credit) for an awesome concept (Foxy Brown meets The Godfather!) and they immediately threw it all down the garbage disposal. 

I don't blame Taraji for any of this. She did her best with the noodly mess we're being asked to call a screenplay. And Jahi Di'Allo Winston is a totally serviceable child actor, maybe the most consistent in the film other than Margaret Avery's wig. But Danny Glover is giving the laziest performance of his career, dishing out some of his finest chair acting and moving as little as possible, taking generous, luxurious pauses between almost every other word. The producers and director clearly asked nothing from him and he provides it in abundance.

It's a mess from square one, to the point that the potentially rousing and triumphant "Proud Mary" action sequence feels like an insult to the intelligence, a desperate, flop-sweating insistence that this movie is fun in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. I know January is the dumping ground for movies that give you a head start on your Worst Of list for the year, but usually there is a modicum of entertainment in these. I'd watch the hilarious disaster that was The Bye Bye Man again in a heartbeat, but I never want to think about, let alone see, the boring, plodding disaster that is Proud Mary ever again. What a missed opportunity.

TL;DR: Proud Mary is a boring action movie, and more importantly a waste of its gargantuan potential.
Rating: 2/10
Word Count: 1002

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