Review: For Jennifer Lopez, The Mother Is Another Forgettable Mid-Level Action Flick

From director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country, the live-action Mulan—all better movies than this one) comes The Mother, the story of a deadly, nameless female assassin (Jennifer Lopez) whom we meet at the top of the film when her former partner-in-crime Adrian (Joseph Fiennes) stabs her in her very pregnant belly. She and baby survive, but we immediately wonder what she did to piss off her former business (and personal) partner, while also considering who else might be after her. Although she’s fairly certain she kills Adrian during their exchange, the FBI agent in charge of her case (Edie Falco, in an intense cameo) makes a deal with her: the bureau will take her child and give her to a family that will keep her safe, letting the bad guys continue to chase down Lopez with no fear of reprisals against the child. She begrudgingly signs on, but only if the FBI promises to give her annual updates on her daughter’s life.

The film jumps ahead many years. The daughter, named Zoe (Lucy Paez) is a teenager is doing well, while Lopez is living/hiding off the grid in Alaska, near a former wartime colleague (Paul Raci, Sound of Metal), who is the only one allowed to visit her at her remote cabin in the wilderness. Naturally, the criminals zero-in on the daughter’s location, so Lopez is forced out of hiding to race to protect Zoe from the likes of Adrian’s underlings, such as the scary Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal). But Lopez and Zoe have a guardian angel in the form of another agent named Cruise (Omari Hardwick), who took care of Lopez when she was in custody before she turned state’s evidence on her former employers. We learn bits and pieces about Lopez’s history with Adrian and Hector (both of whom she was sleeping with, so we’re never quite sure who Zoe’s father is). The rest of the film is simply a cat-and-mouse game between Lopez and anyone trying to harm her daughter, who does eventually get kidnapped.

The Mother is basically one rescue mission after another, and while Lopez is fairly convincing as a tough, silent type who has no issues murdering anyone foolish enough to threaten her offspring, she’s still Jennifer Lopez, and even at her most beaten and bloody, she still looks like a carefully put-together superstar. There are things about the story that are flat-out gross (the child trafficking subplot is tacky and unnecessary and feels like it's attempting to bolster the weak screenplay), and others that are simply unconvincing; Lopez talks a good mom game, but she also teaches/trains her child “survival” skills like sharpshooting, how to use a knife, and how to plant a landmine. And the way the film wraps up is baffling, and made me question why the entire two-hour movie happened in the first place.

Lopez seems trapped in an endless spiral of C-grade action movie and B-grade romantic comedies, and none of them are particularly watchable. The Mother may be one of the roughest and toughest in her action catalog, but it still lacks a beating heart. Lopez’s character spends so much time being quiet and observing everyone around her, we hardly get to know her or why she turned on her bosses and risked her life and that of her daughter. As the film moves forward, we’re left with more and more questions, as we care less and less about the outcome—a deadly combination.

The film is now streaming on Netflix.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.