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The Mother review: a ridiculous thriller in every way

Jennifer Lopez wears a ski cap in The Mother.
The Mother
“Despite the B-movie potential of its premise, The Mother is another flat, poorly executed thriller from director Niki Caro.”
Pros
  • Jennifer Lopez's charismatic, likable lead performance
  • A memorable opening prologue
Cons
  • Several illegible action sequences
  • Clunky dialogue throughout
  • A second half that falls flat

A lot of noise will likely be made online about Jennifer Lopez’s role in her new Netflix thriller, The Mother — namely, how ill-suited she seems for it. The film, which comes from Whale Rider and The Zookeeper’s Wife director Niki Caro, asks Lopez to portray a highly skilled, military-trained assassin who, in addition to routinely shooting bad guys in the head, capably lives and hunts on her own off the grid in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. Despite her character’s living conditions, Lopez, naturally, always looks runway ready in The Mother.

It doesn’t seem to fair hold this particular criticism against either Lopez or The Mother, though. Casting beautiful movie stars in roles that they’re incapable of believably playing is, after all, an age-old Hollywood tradition. Lopez is, to her credit, quite good in the film, too. Her performance is, in fact, one of the strongest aspects of The Mother, which suffers far more from poor editing, incompetent action filmmaking, and clunky writing than it does from Lopez’s casting as its lead.

Jennifer Lopez looks through a sniper scope in The Mother.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Coming three years after Caro’s previous feature effort, Disney’s abominable live-action remake of Mulan, The Mother is another ambitious action film that its director never quite manages to wrap her hands around. That’s disappointing for a number of reasons, but none more so than the fact that the film’s prologue sets it up to be a far more entertaining and effective thriller than it turns out to be. Set in an anonymous FBI safehouse, The Mother’s opening minutes follow Lopez’s unnamed protagonist as she tries desperately to survive an ambush from Adrian Lovell (Joseph Fiennes), a British arms dealer she’s recently betrayed.

Unfolding over the course of 10 tense minutes, The Mother’s prologue is shocking in both its brusqueness and brutality. One decisive slash from Lovell’s knife ultimately carries more weight than anything else in the film, but the violent beat in question does a lot to send The Mother hurtling into its first act with considerable momentum. In the 100 minutes that follow, viewers learn more about Lovell’s relationship with Lopez’s assassin, as well as the powerful trafficker, Hector Álvarez (a tragically underused Gael García Bernal), who they once built a criminal empire with. Most of these details are revealed during an awkwardly placed exposition dump that comes near The Mother’s midpoint.

Before long, Lopez’s unnamed mother is forced out of her self-imposed exile when she discovers that Lovell and Álvarez have turned their attention to Zoe (Lucy Paez), the daughter that her dangerous life forced her to put up for adoption years prior. With its heroine intent on saving her daughter’s life no matter the cost, the film slowly but surely evolves into a thriller that’s part bare-knuckled action flick and part mother-daughter drama. Despite the potential a combination like that contains, though, The Mother’s clunky second and third acts fail to make any of their moments of action or drama genuinely sing.

Jennifer Lopez wears a leather jacket and backpack in The Mother.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

As was the case in her reinterpretation of Disney’s Mulan, Caro’s approach to action filmmaking leaves a lot to be desired in The Mother. Several of the film’s shootouts land with a real punch, but the same can’t be said for any of its chases or hand-to-hand fights, nearly all of which are comprised of fast cuts that make it impossible to decipher what’s actually happening on-screen. Like many directors before her, Caro frequently makes the mistake in The Mother of believing that fast-cutting is all that’s needed to raise viewers’ pulses — geography and visual legibility be damned.

While Lopez does her best to sell her character’s physical prowess, she’s let down by Caro’s occasionally incomprehensible direction. The moments when a stunt double was likely used to stand in for Lopez often feel painfully obvious as well, largely because they’re the only times in The Mother when the actress’ character actually bothers to put on a helmet. These flaws, altogether, hinder action sequences that should feel far more engaging than they do.

Opposite Lopez, The Mother features everyone from Fiennes and Omari Hardwick to Edie Falco, who makes a brief appearance early on as a no-nonsense FBI agent that never shows up in the film again. Outside of Lopez, though, the film doesn’t give many of its performers much to do. The only member of the thriller’s supporting cast who manages to make somewhat of an impression is Paul Raci, whose clear-eyed screen persona makes him the perfect choice to play Jons, a close confidant of Lopez’s on-the-run assassin.

Lucy Paez and Jennifer Lopez walk through snow together in The Mother.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

As the daughter of the film’s eponymous hero, Lucy Paez does her best to bring real sensitivity and innocence to her performance as Zoe. The actress’ efforts are inevitably undercut by the film’s disappointing characterization of Zoe, though, who actively causes more trouble than is believable throughout The Mother’s second half. Once they’ve finally been reunited, the moments of bonding and connection that Zoe and her mother share are unevenly executed as well.

A banter-filled dinner conversation between the duo ranks as one of The Mother’s best scenes, but the arguments that are supposed to serve as the foundation of their long-awaited relationship fall utterly flat. The ineffectiveness of these moments, combined with a selection of terrible needle drops, drag down The Mother‘s second half long before the film even gets to its lackluster, illogical climactic set piece. What you’re left with at the end of all of these missteps is an action movie that takes a lot of shots, only a few of which actually hit their target.

The Mother is now streaming on Netflix.

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Alex Welch
Alex Welch is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
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