Much As I love them,1 I’d very much like to call a moratorium on the use of CCR and covers thereof in film – or at least the obvious hits.
Fortunate Son. Midnight Special. Proud Mary…
When they’re not being used in a knowingly absurd context, i.e. in basically any other film than Kong: Skull Island, they too often feels like an attempt to energise otherwise bland or formulaic material.
Such is the case of Proud Mary, another John Wick clone with a half-hearted splicing on ’70s Blaxpolitation that director Babak Najafi, whose only other credit is London Has Fallen, barely manages to sustain past the title sequence.
Taraji P. Henson is Mary, a cold-blooded killer with a lush pad, an all-leather wardrobe, a collection of wigs, and an arsenal that would give even Charlton Heston pause. When the routine execution of some anonymous homeowner leaves young Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) without a father and Mary with a major guilt complex.
A year later, she finally steps in and scoops the kid literally off the streets – apparently it takes some time for her maternal side to kick in. In doing so, though, she manages to kick off a mob war between her own employers, a crime family led by kindly patrician Benny (Danny Glover), and the Russians (in the employ of the none-more-generic-Eastern-European Rade Šerbedžija).2
What follows is some nice enough interplay between Mary and the kid: he swears, she scolds him; she buys him hot-dogs while out on a hit and tells him not to go into her room while she’s away… He spends most of the film getting himself into sticky situations, passing back and forth between various antagonists – where’s Danny? whose got Danny? – which acquires a tedious sense of inevitability.
The action, meanwhile, is nondescript; featuring lots of bad-ass-works-their-way-through-a-building-killing-everyone-style shootouts and only one notable, heavily-blocked set-piece involving a Maserati.
Proud Mary’s script is determined to get us to invest in its protagonist’s redemptive arc, her desire to get away from the life, but, simultaneously, weakens it by making everyone she kills either a faceless henchman or irredeemable monster. Even characters who may previously has seemed sympathetic are retconned into monsters so that we can feel better about Mary summarily dispatching them – usually by shooting them point-blank in the head after a steely-eyed rejoinder.
The whole thing is invested with a queasy sentimentality to the film that fatally undermines Henson’s bold, vulnerable performance and her chemistry with Winston.
Go see it if you’re desperate for some underdone action. Just don’t say it came out of the sky. I might see it again myself some day.3 Done.