Taraji P. Henson is such a firecracker she almost makes you believe Proud Mary might have been a decent crime flick – if she fired the asses of the clueless dudes who wrote and directed it and took on those jobs herself. Surely, the Oscar-nominated actress (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), the one who lights up the screen in Hidden Figures and as Cookie Lyon on TV’s Empire, could have just done an improvisation on this premise and come up with something livelier than this dipshit drivel. As the film’s executive producer, she had the power to do it; now it’s too late for the woulda, shoulda, coulda. Every paying audience member deserves their 12 bucks back.
Henson plays Mary, a hired gun working out of Boston who becomes a mother protector to Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), a 13-year-old orphan. That’s the least the hit woman can do since she herself orphaned the kid, who runs his own scam game under the tutelage of a Yiddish-speaking hood (Xander Berkeley). As a teen, Mary was taken under the wing of Benny (a slumming Danny Glover), a crime kingpin who taught her everything she knows about contract killing and watched as she fell for his creepy son, Tom (Billy Brown). The idea here is that Mary can make changes for the youngster and herself by going straight and getting out of the game.
Never mind that the reformed menace trope has been done better by Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in The Professional and by Gena Rowlands in Gloria. Or that Henson is set up like Pam Grier in Foxy Brown or Jackie Brown (take your pick), with the Proud Mary song recalling Tina Turner at her feistiest. John Fogerty, who wrote the lyrics to that classic anthem, has expressed his disapproval over having his song co-opted for a cheap crime story about a hitwoman “killing for the Man every night and day.” Can’t blame him. We’d happily pay to see blaxploitation cred reimagined for a new millennium. But director Babak Najafi (London Has Fallen) connects the dots in the rote script without ever connecting emotionally with its characters. It’s one thing to watch Henson’s Mary shoot her way out of a world of trigger-happy male oppressors. It’s another to watch her continually get shot down by a movie that’s not worth her time – or yours. It should be ashamed of itself.