Taraji P. Henson’s Assassin Thriller ‘Proud Mary’ Misses Target

Superficially, the Screen Gems release of “Proud Mary” is quite enticing. The blaxploitation inspired action flick, serving as a starring vehicle for Taraji P. Henson, dressed its somewhat clichéd premise in exploitation/grindhouse attire. But after digging into the Babak Najafi directed crime flick about a hitwoman whose life changes after crossing paths with a young orphan, the bottom line is less than enthused.

Mary is a veteran Boston assassin, assigned to cases that lead to run of the mill action sequences. However, she quickly reaps the consequences of her work when she orphans a young boy after killing his deadbeat father. But under Mary’s leather jacket rests a sentimental side, so she decides to take the 13-year-old street boy, Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), under her protection. For newcomer Winston, the pouty teen serves the role justice amongst his well-played cast.

Henson is quite commendable as titular Mary. She portrays the hitwoman with equal amounts of badass fierceness and movie star ease – it also serves her case knowing she can pull a trigger. If anything the film serves as a solid audition for the “Empire” star to actually lead an action franchise of her own. But if “Proud Mary” was an attempt to launch her own series, the project fails in its mission. Her last solo marquee role “No Good Deed” marked up solid business in 2014 to the tune of $52 million, but chances are “Proud Mary” won’t be as fruitful.

The dynamic between the David and Mary proves to be quite challenging, but amongst their relationship emerges Mary’s maternal side – one she has been suppressing her whole life. The action is full circle as she was also taken under the wing of a Gangster, Benny (Danny Glover), when she was a teenager. Growing up in crime, Benny taught her everything she knows about being a skilled assassin. But once you begin a life of crime, there is no turning back.

It’s a life that Mary clearly wants to leave, but she is far too entangled. Her romance with Benny’s stonehearted son, Tom (Billy Brown), further regulated her role within the crime family. For Mary, taking David under her wing is much more than just righting a wrong after killing his father, it’s a mildly empathetic form of redemption to clean up the regretful life she has been leading.

Penned by Steve Antin (“Burlesque”), John Stuart (“Get Shorty”), and Christian Swegal, the story attempts several plot twists that are foreseeable and rather uneventful. At its core, the story isn’t really anything new. Najafi (“London Has Fallen”) sharply frames the action, but it is Henson’s performance that saves the film from being completely disastrous.

Rocking a Maserati and taking down bad guys in what could have been ‘70s grindhouse aesthetic, doesn’t fully reach the point of exploitation that it promised it might. Generic storytelling and empty stylized action scenes make the film fall somewhat short. Regardless of its fresh attempt, “Proud Mary” is left to sit in the realm of mere B-movie fare.

Proud Mary’ opens Jan. 12 in theaters.