“Proud Mary,” about Boston crime families battling each other, is a film at war with itself. One faction really wants it to be a throwback to ’70s blaxploitation, with Taraji P. Henson as a gun-slinging Pam Grier type who fights against The Man. That faction produced the opening credits, where “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” plays over ’70s-style fonts and images.
But most of “Proud Mary,” for some reason, wants to be a dreary melodrama with little action and much formulaic dialogue. Mary, a hitperson who lives in a fabulous apartment in the present day (not the ’70s), becomes the guardian of Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), a street-wise 12-year-old who’s been working for the Russian drug dealers who are Mary’s family’s competition. Mary’s “family” is actually her ex-boyfriend, Tom (Billy Brown), and his father, Benny (Danny Glover), and Mary feels like maybe she’s had enough of this life. She certainly doesn’t want Danny to get trapped in it.
The film is more about Danny than Mary, and young Jahi Di’Allo Winston plays the orphaned lad with a good mixture of adolescent bravado (he pulls a gun more than once) and childlike fear. But director Babak Najafi (“London Has Fallen”), working from a trite screenplay credited to three other men, gets bogged down in the budding child-guardian relationship between Danny and Mary, and in the inevitable revelation (which we know from the beginning) that will threaten it.
Things pick up whenever the film’s criminal elements take over, culminating in an acceptable finale with guns a-blazin’ and the title song a-playin’. It’s frustratingly inert otherwise, managing to feel overlong at only 89 minutes. The melodrama needs to be richer, the gangster drama needs more oomph, and both elements need to do a better job of supporting one another.
C+ (1 hr., 29 min.; )