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Mike Reyes

Netflix's The Mother Review: Jennifer Lopez's Latest Action Movie Has Plenty Of Bullets, But Needs More Flowers

Jennifer Lopez aims her shotgun while Lucy Paez stands behind her in the snowy woods in The Mother.

It seems anybody can become an action star in the modern movie market. With the right training, actors with impressive acting chops can pair those skills with explosive stunt work to make for surprise hits. Jennifer Lopez certainly isn’t a stranger to kicking ass on the big screen, but the latest phase of her career seems to have arrived at a crucial junction with director Niki Caro’s The Mother. Amping up Lopez’s experience with stuntwork, the movie further establishes her credentials as an action lead, testing her physical mettle to a great extent. But while this film has all the essential components of a thrilling, combat-fueled blockbuster, those parts never form an effective whole, which feels like it’s all bullets and no flowers.

The Mother
(Image credit: Netflix)

Release Date: May 12, 2023
Directed By: Niki Caro
Written By: Misha Green and Andrea Berloff and Peter Craig
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Joseph Fiennes, Lucy Paez, Omari Hardwick, Paul Raci and Gael Garcia Bernal
Rating: Rated R for violence, some language, and brief drug use.
Runtime: 117 minutes

The Mother kicks off with a harrowing scenario that’ll shock most anyone who watches. Our unnamed protagonist (Jennifer Lopez) survives an attack that sees her ex-boyfriend Adrian Lovell (Joseph Fiennes) stabbing her very pregnant stomach just as she’s about to go into FBI witness protection. After defending herself, Lopez’s heroine chooses to surrender her newborn daughter, with the hope of giving her a normal, protected life. Twelve years after that fateful day, the past comes back to haunt her, thanks to that vicious ex making another play to harm The Mother and her long lost daughter (Lucy Paez).

Reading that rundown of The Mother’s plot is something that draws an equal amount of groans and intrigue. Simple premises like this have found a pleasant resurgence through innovative takes like the John Wick series, Nobody, and even last year’s Violent Night – which all engage in a balancing act that give us characters as intriguing as the set pieces they fight through. That balance is the key to what makes those films work, and leads to why The Mother doesn’t.

The Mother has a promising cast and premise, but it never knows how to make it all work.

In the typically male dominated world of action-adventure movies, there’s more than plenty of room for more female-led entries in the genre. Again, in premise alone, The Mother sounds like a breath of fresh air that could break up the status quo. That would only work, though, if the movie’s story had any intent on really trying to mesh the action with the emotion in the concept.

A parent literally fighting to protect their child has been used throughout countless action and drama stories, so there needs to be a novelty that makes a reprisal of the angle worth exploring. One would think that was easier said than done given the pieces The Mother has to work with, and that holds true as it fails to align the action and emotion into a working film. 

None of the set pieces sparks the adrenaline rush needed to buy into the terror being visited upon Jennifer Lopez’s maternal figure or her on-screen daughter. Meanwhile, the more dramatic side fails to really develop the emotional ties that is supposed to exist between the two characters. The structure is there, along with all the signposts point to where The Mother would try to convince its audience to feel something, but it just never comes together past a surface level of understanding the formula.

Jennifer Lopez and the supporting cast put in the work, but it still can’t save The Mother from feeling extremely passive.

There's a scattering of moments in The Mother that are frustratingly promising, especially when Jennifer Lopez gets to show us the slow emotional transformation of the woman we know as a soldier that doesn't have a handle a domestic life – but that praise can be applied to the supporting cast as well. With names like Gael Garcia Bernal, Joseph Fiennes, Paul Raci, and Edie Falco in the ensemble, there is a lot of promise, and yet, some of those name actors only appear for a scene or two. 

Others get to occupy more of the real estate provided in The Mother’s simple plot, but there’s still a massive disconnect between what this picture is trying to do and what it actually accomplishes.

It’s nice to see plotlines like Jennifer Lopez’s friendship with Paul Raci’s fellow war vet get some sort of time in The Mother, as those are the moments that show us what could have been in a more developed version of this script. The same is true in the flashbacks that paint in why Gael Garcia Bernal and Joseph Fiennes' characters are so integral to the story. It's all show versus tell, however, as those important threads are present merely because they're needed as a bare minimum to build up the story. 

There are single scene wonders like Edie Falco and Gael Garcia Bernal and a solid villainous performance from Joseph Fiennes, but none of this rises past moments of fleeting interest.

If The Mother gets any flowers for its efforts, it’s for showing Jennifer Lopez is still game for big ticket action blockbusters.

I can recommend The Mother solely as an action showcase for Jennifer Lopez, and even then there are tons of caveats required. Lopez is an entertainment icon with so much more personality and warmth that could have been used to boost her character’s narrative beyond a rote understanding of the action-drama formula. This movie knows where it needs to go, but it assumes that you do as well, and leaves you to fill in the blanks in your imagination

Seeing as Jennifer Lopez is the mother that gives the film its title, the failure to build her character causes a collapse on shaky foundation on which this movie is built. The action is too tame to raise your heartrate, and the drama is so basic that you can almost always guess what the next line’s going to be. Predicability doesn’t always kill a movie, but if you don’t add a little bit more to the pot to really flavor what’s being served, the result isn’t going to taste good.

The Mother finds itself being released on, of course, Mother’s Day weekend. That novelty, and Jennifer Lopez’s action chops, are the only true draws that exist to try and attract an audience. If the muscle behind this project tried to make that work to its advantage on a story level, we might have been talking about a more entertaining movie. Another pass or two with this script, and the developed project could have been a wild ride that plucked some heartstrings along the way. I’m not mad at The Mother, I’m just really, really disappointed.

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