From its kickin’ soundtrack to its deliberately retro cinematography, Proud Mary is clearly an homage to the action-packed B-movies of the ’70s. The fabulously versatile Taraji P. Henson stars as the titular character at the heart of this 90-minute vignette. Although she is a pretty badass assassin, Mary has a jarring change of heart when she stumbles upon Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), the young son of one of her targets—he is oblivious as to what happened to his father, since he had his headphones on in another room. Fast-forward to a year later: Danny is on the streets, slinging dope for the ruthless kingpin Uncle (Xander Berkeley). Unbeknownst to him, Mary has been watching him ever since—which comes in handy when Danny passes out in an alleyway.
Mary takes Danny in, keeping him in her swanky, mod, blood-money-funded apartment. Overcome with guilt from seeing the effects of street life on her new ward, Mary pays Uncle a visit that ends with her killing him in cold blood—which triggers an ever-escalating chain of volatile events for Boston’s organized-crime scene.
It is a true joy to watch Henson flex her action-heroine muscles in this role, and the bond between Henson and Winston is touching. However, the movie is ultimately undone by its lackluster script: Although Mary has a lot of potential as a character, her transformation from cold-blooded contract killer to emotionally sensitive mother figure within a matter of days is eyebrow-raising. Sure, believability wasn’t really an important factor in the pulpy exploitation flicks that Proud Mary hopes to emulate, but the film never really finds its footing. The result? A disjointed movie with an identity crisis. Between the solid acting and the creative camerawork—and one more shout-out to the soundtrack—there is a lot of interesting potential in Proud Mary, but sloppy editing and writing prevent it from really landing.