Proud Mary is a perfect example of a concept that is good on paper, but bad on execution. Almost every dramatic scene lands with a thud. Absolutely no chemistry is present with this cast. And I don’t get much out of Mary herself here. Sony delivers the goods with a great video transfer and audio mix as usual, but there is very little to recommend in this Skip It release.
In recent decades, films and movies of the same era shared certain qualities specific to that time. In the 80s, there were so many different film genres that they all seemed to be risks, and it was truly the last decade where the directors had control over the studios. The 90s is when indie films went mainstream and we got amazing films like Pulp Fiction, Dazed and Confused, and Clerks. With the 70s we had Blaxploitation filmmaking. This is where we took what could be perceived as an average film of the time, with an all-black cast, and a certain style and swagger that to this day has rarely been replicated. I absolutely love the swagger and attitude of Blaxploitation filmmaking, and desperately miss it in today’s more rote cinema. From the trailers and the casting of Proud Mary, it seemed like that was the intent, and that got me intrigued. So, imagine the frown on my face when I figured out this was the equivalent of a Tyler Perry-directed Steven Segal film.
After the opening credits which evoke that Blaxploitation style that I love, it is literally thrown out the window for the tritest melodrama. Taraji P. Henson plays Mary. And Mary has a moral crisis about an assignment she has: to kill the father of Danny (Jahi Di'Allo Winston). For a reason that is revealed later, Mary takes Danny under her wing and kills his drug smuggling mob boss. So, this could play as kind of a female version of The Professional. Except here the drama plays like a Tyler Perry after school special. The message of young kids getting into gangs is heavy-handed. And the relationship between the two doesn’t play on any level. Which brings me to the bigger problem: Henson is miscast here. Her sultry demeanor doesn’t lend itself to the tough as nails character she is being asked to play. A stronger director could have fixed all of this with their actors.
Along with being a hitwoman, Mary also works for Benny (Danny Glover), a semi mob boss who is supposedly “so dangerous” that he can't find out about Danny. Obviously, it goes without saying that Danny Glover is also miscast here, and instead of coming off menacing, it plays as unintentional comedy. Especially towards the end when he hams it up and shows his true colors as a character. Again, I say this all comes down to bad directing choices. I do not believe Glover was hoisted upon our director, Babak Najafi. He was obviously chosen by him. And that is just one of many bad calls he makes as a director here.
Perhaps, I could take all the negatives here if the style was on point. I will say that the action (when there is some) is competently staged, and Henson is at her best in those moments. But those moments are few and far between, substituted out for melodrama that does not play. But the worst offense here is the mishandling of the Blaxploitation style. Where is it? After the opening credits, it is just gone. Hell, the score in Brawl on Cell Block 99 evoked more of that style than this. Instead, we get a generic heavy-handed score that tried to make up for the fact that the drama wasn’t working.
Instead of being a fun Blaxploitation throwback, Proud Mary exists as a cautionary tale of how not to make a thrilling action movie starring a baddass woman.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Sony brings Proud Mary to Blu-ray with the standard slipcover to hardcover packaging. Enclosed lies a BD-50 Blu-ray, and a Movies Anywhere download that can be used to view the 4K version on Vudu (this might suggest there is an Ultra HD version right around the corner). Once we hit play, we are bombarded with a slew of skippable trailers before being brought to the main menu that lets us navigate from there.
Proud Mary sets her sights on your television, with a 1080P MPEG-4 encode that, while not as stylized as one would think, still offers some good eye candy. Clarity and detail are top notch, revealing great detail in facial tones and clothing. But that is what we would expect from a film that actually has a 4K DI. With an aspect ratio of 2.39:1, black levels are also exactly what they should be. There is quite a bit of dimly-lit scenes paired with Mary’s black leather, and you can always differentiate between the two. Indoor lighting has an orange hue that is never overbearing, or features any DNR, or aliasing. By all accounts, this is a solid transfer. I just can’t help but feel like there isn’t enough style on display here. Even though that might just be my overall problem with the movie as a whole, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this feels kind of safe. But in the end, this is a technically flawless transfer that comes across more as a well-shot drama than an action movie.
Sony calls in a hit on your surround sound, with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that surpasses the film's shortcomings to give us a very solid audio experience. It is apparent right from the opening credits that surrounds will be used often, and be heavily utilized. Forgiving the film's heavy-handed score, it comes through the surrounds perfectly. Action scenes reveal expert speaker separation as Mary assassinates every which way. LFE is mainly used for the score, but it is well utilized in that regard. This is a more bold, surprising mix that came to be the highlight of this disc for me.
Mary’s World (HD 5:34) – A recap of the film and characters involved.
The Beginning Of The End (HD 5:48) - A look at the action in the film and how Henson did a lot of her own stunts.
If Looks Could Kill (HD 3:57) – Ever wonder where Mary gets her wonderful toys? Well, here they explain her arsenal and form-fitting leather.
Proud Mary is one of those movies shown in film class on how not to do something. This film could ooze with style and thrills the way Atomic Blond recently did, or be a grindhouse throwback to the Blacksploitation films of the 1970s. Instead, the whole thing is rather bland. Good video and audio don't stop me from thinking no one will get exactly what they want out of this movie, making a Skip It release, for sure.