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  • Nate Adams

'The Mother' review: Jennifer Lopez’ Netflix action vehicle needs more depth

Courtesy of Netflix


At 53 years old, Jennifer Lopez has never looked better or more agile than she does in the stylish, but forgettable action thriller “The Mother.” In it, she plays a woman on the run from her past who is forced to put her child up for adoption and inhabit a secluded life in the Alaskan wilderness. For Lopez, it’s probably the most punches she’s thrown since 2002’s underrated “Enough,” and through “Whale Rider” filmmaker Niki Caro brings stylish flair to the small screen (a climatic snowmobile chase is always welcome), “The Mother” never evolves its themes into something other than manipulative talking points. Which is a bummer, because the opening sequence, an intimate action throwdown with real stakes, suggested an alternative from the usual bullet and bloodshed formula.

If done with rhythm, there’s nothing wrong with bullets and bloodshed (look at what Charlize Theron accomplished in “Atomic Blonde”) but screenwriters Andrea Berloff, Peter Craig, and Misha Green, hardly make the mother/daughter connection hinted from the title stick. The emotional undercurrent is lost in favor of expanding a pair of villainous backstories that weaken the primary narrative hook, creating more confusion than clarity. It doesn’t help Lopez and her young co-star Lucy Paez hardly gel, but the script, sprinkled with tepid dialogue and surface level intrigue, holds them back from exploring the complex dynamics of their relationship. 

Known only as “Mother,” Lopez plays a former army operative-turned deadly assassin that went AWOL after she got pregnant. Her old bosses/lovers Adrian Lovell (Joseph Fiennes – sporting facial makeup that would make Freddy Kruger chuckle) and Hector Alvarez (Gael Garcia Bernal) weren’t keen, with her knowledge of sensitive operational info, to just let her walk. She teams up with FBI agent William Cruise (Omari Hardwick) to enter witness protection, put her newborn into a good home, and disappear.

12 years later, of course, The Mother’s offspring Zoe (Paez) is on the bad guy’s radar, forcing her out of hiding and into a game of cat-and-mouse where she takes Zoe into custody. Awkward small talk and forced bonding ensues while the two try understanding each other after being separated for over a decade. In those moments, the filmmakers never seem interested in unearthing the psychological trauma Zoe might be feeling as she comes face-to-face with her biological mother (after just being kidnapped!) and Lopez, bless her soul, tries eliciting what little poignancy exists, including a sequence where she trains the young blood how to wield a knife and shotgun, yet its cheap attempts at unpacking emotional baggage comes up short. At least Oscar nominee Paul Raci offers brief words of wisdom when the movie seems desperate for a soothing moral center.

Anyone who watches the film won’t question Lopez’ dexterity, especially after witnessing her slinging around motorcycles, snowmobiles, and engaging in a tense foot chase through a small Mexican village. “The Mother” is a wonderful showcase for those athletic talents, but as an acting vehicle it succumbs to genre cliches and makes you wish she had stumbled into a film that knew how to juggle action and heart.

Grade: C

THE MOTHER debuts on Netflix Friday, May 12th.


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