The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Proud Mary

Certain words come to mind after seeing Proud Mary: oof, ugh, and blecch. Have you ever turned on the television halfway through a movie and tried to watch the remainder of it, only to find yourself unable to figure out what's going on because you missed the beginning? That's what watching this film is like. I would bet good money that there's at least half an hour of deleted material on a cutting room floor somewhere. That's the only explanation for this catastrophe.

Taraji P. Henson plays Mary, a hitwoman who works for a Boston crime family. She takes pity on Danny (Jahi Di'Allo Winston), the tween son of a bookie she assassinated, unbeknownst to him. Mary's effort to save him from getting sucked into a life of crime results in her killing the leader of a rival mob family, nearly sparking an all-out underworld war. Her boss, Benny (Danny Glover), resolves to find out who among his team is responsible. Mary then has to cover her tracks, which becomes much more difficult when everyone grows suspicious of this kid's sudden presence around her.

In writing that plot synopsis, I'm extrapolating to a fair degree. Proud Mary really doesn't explain any of this. You just sort of figure it out over time. This is a story with no first act. We're supposed to believe that Mary is a ruthless, tough-as-nails killer who softens after developing remorse for leaving a young boy fatherless. There are no scenes showing her in that previous life, though, aside from a very brief glimpse of her shooting Danny's father at the beginning. Later scenes try to convince us that she's evolving, yet because we've never known her as anything other than sympathetic, those moments carry no weight.

Additional plot threads similarly leave the viewer baffled. Billy Brown plays Tom, another member of the family. He's kind of edgy and seems to be perpetually irritated with Mary. There's a throwaway line about them having once been romantically linked. No more is said on the issue, making his continual animosity toward her perplexing. Similarly, Benny is never given any sort of introduction. We eventually surmise that he's a crime boss. If you want to know what sort of crime he's involved in or why his family has a rivalry with the other family, you're just plain out of luck.

Clearly, expository scenes have been chopped out. The best – or, more accurately, worst – evidence of this involves Neal McDonough. Even if you don't know the character actor's name, you undoubtedly would recognize his face. He's been in dozens of movies and TV shows. McDonough plays Walter, someone else associated with Benny's crew. He speaks two, maybe three lines of dialogue before promptly being dispatched from the rest of the film. Where is the material explaining who Walter is and why he's forced out of the story? As it exists, the character could have been portrayed by any anonymous day-player. Why would someone with McDonough's resume sign up for less than two minutes of screen time?

There are plenty of other problems. One hundred percent of Danny Glover's dialogue has been noticeably, distractingly dubbed. (I'm not even certain it's actually his voice.) The action scenes, of which there are shockingly few, are clumsily staged by director Babak Najafi (London Has Fallen). There's an abrupt ending at the 83-minute mark that leaves you thinking, ”That's it?" And the decision to blast Tina Turner's “Proud Mary” over the soundtrack during the gritty, violent climactic shootout...well, at least the on-the-nose quality of that choice is unintentionally amusing.

We all know Taraji Henson is great. A look at her finest performance, in Hidden Figures, proves that she's one of the most dynamic actresses working today. The idea of casting her as a smart, sexy action heroine in a contemporary version of female-driven Blaxploitation flicks like Coffy and Foxy Brown is a solid one. Something in that plan went wrong. Proud Mary is a shambles, bearing the hallmarks of significant post-production troubles. Henson deserves so much better.

( out of four)

Proud Mary is rated R for violence. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.

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