By Liam Lacey
Taraji P. Henson, who stars in the Fox series Empire and earned a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her work in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is a mature and versatile actress who can do just about anything.
She can dress up in a leather suit, cuss, blow away bad guys and still seem identifiably human in Proud Mary, an action melodrama in which she plays a job-weary Boston-based mob assassin who discovers her maternal side. What she can’t do is elevate Proud Mary — which was released by Sony without advance press screenings — above the level of humdrum.
Mary (Henson) is a killer working for a crime family run by Benny (Danny Glover) whose son Tom was Mary's former beau. A year earlier, Mary had a crisis of conscience when she killed a bookie who owed Benny money, later realizing the man's 12-year-old son was in the next room. After tracking down the boy, Danny (Jahi Di'Allo Winston), she finds him unconscious in an alley, rescues him and takes him into her swank loft apartment, which has a walk-in closet full of pricey firearms.
Despite his angelic appearance, Danny is a gangster in training, running drugs for a Russian mobster called Uncle (Xander Berkeley) who he says he "owns" the boy, and beats him regularly.
Mary gets riled and ends up leaving a lot of bad guys’ bodies strewn about. This moment of rashness triggers a gang-war between her boss Benny and Uncle's gang with Mary and Danny eventually getting caught in the middle.
Performances are hit and miss: The hit woman and the kid bicker, banter and bond with likeable enough sass and affection. Glover lays it on thick in the avuncular-but-lethal godfather role while Billy Brown as Mary's former lover glowers and flexes a lot while leaving no lasting impression. Action scenes have the creaky familiarity of vintage TV cop shows, right down to the music. Even Tina Turner's smouldering version of the John Fogerty classic that gives the movie its title fails to raise goose-bumps.
Proud Mary. Directed by Babak Najafi. Starring Taraji P. Henson, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Billy Brown, Danny Glover and Xander Berkeley. Now playing at Toronto’s Scotiabank Theatre, SilverCity Yorkdale and Cineplex Odeon Queensway.