Review – Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary (“Proud Mary”)

Harken back to the days of yesteryear when blaxploitation films like Foxy Brown, Cleopatra Jones, and Shaft were all the rage. I’m talkin’ about the swingin’ 70’s, and this   attempted throwback movie tries to does just that.  Unfortunately…
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She black and beautiful and armed to to teeth. She’s Mary Goodwin (Taraji P. Henson), a lethal contract hit-girl for a Boston crime family run by Benny (Danny Glover) and his son, Tom (Billy Brown), who also happens to be another expert hit-man and Mary’s ex-boyfriend. Mary lives in splendor in her downtown apartment, but that all changes when she takes in a foul-mouthed 12-year-old street kid who’s on the hook with a nasty drug dealer. But what street-wise Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) doesn’t know is that nice Mary is the one that wasted his dead-beat dad a year ago. Think he’ll find out later? Nawww…

Feeling guilt at first for killing his dad, Mary’s maternal instincts kick in later for the boy and two start to bond. Meanwhile, a turf war is brewing between Benny and Luka (Rade Serbedzija), the Russian crime boss, and all because of the mysterious killing of Luka’s rotten nephew, Uncle (Xander Berkeley). As the body count starts to escalate on both sides, Mary tries her darnedest to keep the peace and hide the kid from the prying eyes of her “family”. Naturally, things go terrible wrong and Mary, after having helped with a massacre, decides she wants out of her contract from Benny. Uh… when was the last time you ever heard of a contract killer just leaving? Yeah, I thought so.

The kid decides to take matters into his own hands, gets caught, and that’s when protective Mama Bear goes into full kick-ass mode in a laughably silly third act treat. Written by John S. Newman (the Days of Our Lives TV series), newbie Christian Swegal, and Steve Antin (the Young Americans TV series), this wanna-be homage to the great 70’s films of past fails on so many fronts. It starts out promisingly, then degenerates into a mundane, by-the-numbers, and rather dull film that has some of the worst and clichéd dialogue ever spoken.

The only saving grace is the quick pace by director Babak Najafi (London Has Fallen) who, despite the awful script, does manage to pull out some decent performances, and add some nice shoot-’em up shots. And speaking of acting, it looks like it was a ‘paycheck’ movie for Danny Glover, who just walked through his role. But for Henson, straight from her TV series Empire, she deserved better than this. Her role of a hit-woman wasn’t the issue, it was that underdeveloped script that submarined her. She needed a more meatier role like Zoe Saladana in Columbiana or Angelina Jolie in Wanted.

Billy Brown is your A-typical GQ model thrown in for the love interest, but the real acting award goes to young Winston in his motion picture debut. The young’un, who’s only done some Amazon streaming series, runs acting circles around his adult counterparts. I hope to see more of his talent later on in better movies!

                            

Leon: The Professional (1994)
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*sigh* What’s a professional hit-man to do? He’s faced with taking in a precocious 12-year-old girl who’s family where just brutally murdered next door. How about train her in the art of assassination? Yeah, that’s the ticket!
 
In this wickedly unflinching no-holds-barred drama (with bits of dark humor), writer/director Luc Besson ramps up the action and pathos in this heartbreaking and blood-splattering crime film. Owl-faced Jean Reno stars as Leon Montana, a shy and sociopathic “cleaner” that is damn good at his job, working for a Mafioso boss (Danny Aiello) in the Little Italy section of NYC. Life for Leon is simple, quiet, and full of quickly killing people who need killing… until one day.
 
Next door, little Mathilda (Natalie Portman) comes home one afternoon to find her whole family horribly murdered; victims of corrupt DEA officers, lead by the psychotically unhinged Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Looks like Mathilda’s daddy was deep into cocaine and debt, and he paid the ultimate price. With no place to go and Stansfield hot on her trail, she holds up in Leon’s apartment where, safe and protected, she strikes up an unusual bargain with the man. She’ll do all the cooking, cleaning, and errands IF he’ll teach her how to kill properly. Leon, struck by her innocence and charm, accepts.
 
As time goes on, Mathilda learns more about Leon, gun-play, and even… (gulp!)  falling in love with him! But while Leon is patient and calculating in his moves, Mathilda just wants Stansfield dead NOW! Risking it all, she goes into police HQ to confront the madman, but chickens out, leaving behind evidence of her whereabouts. Armed with her address (and coked to the gills), Stansfield gets his fellow cronies to wage all-out war against Leon and the kid in a spectacular third-act show-down that is just jaw-dropping.
 
Besson really flexes his directorial muscles here, as he did for his sci-fi opus, The Fifth Element. The script is tight, engaging, and full of surprises, especially if you see the extended cut, where Mathilda BEGS to sleep with Leon and strips while doing so! Yikes! The acting here is astounding, starting with Portman who, at such a young age, showed remarkable ability, grace, and sensitively. Reno is sublime and delightfully restrained, but it’s Oldman that goes full-tilt bat-spit crazy in his role that you have to watch.  
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