The Mother (2023) Review

After spending the last few years appearing in romantic comedies seen in Second Act (2018) as well as Marry Me and Shotgun Wedding (both released in 2022), it’s nice to see Jennifer Lopez playing a tough action role who has a very particular set of skills for a change in The Mother.

We learn that she’s a former military sniper-turned-FBI informant and when we first met her, she is in a safe house with other agents led by Cruise (Omari Hardwick). But it doesn’t take long before the unnamed protagonist’s killers ambush the place and shoot down most of the agents. From there, the movie reveals Lopez’s character is actually pregnant and the father could be one of her former arms-dealers lovers, Adrian Lovell (Joseph Fiennes) or Hector Alvarez (Gael Garcia Bernal).

After barely survived from the bloody attack, Lopez’s titular character made a deal with the FBI Special Agent in Charge (Edie Falco in a cameo appearance) that she agrees to hand over her newborn baby girl to foster care. Doing so would not only keep her safe but also able to live a normal life with a new family.

Everything goes well as planned with the baby girl is now grown up as a 12-year-old teenager that goes by the name of Zoe (Lucy Paez). Cruise, who owes Lopez’s character for saving his life during the opening ambush sequence, has been looking after her daughter all this while. Unfortunately, when the bad guys from Lopez’s character’s past return and kidnap her daughter, she teams up with Cruise to get her back at all costs.

The Mother marks the return of Niki Caro, the New Zealand director behind the live-action remake of Mulan three years ago and of course, the acclaimed Whale Rider back in 2002. Having proved her worth in the action department seen in Mulan, the same can’t be said for her latest movie. The opening ambush attack alone is a letdown — all dimly lit to the point it’s hard to see what’s really going on with Ben Seresin’s murky cinematography ruined it the most. Except for the Havana-set (actually filmed on the Canary Islands) elaborate chase sequence revolving around Lopez’s character pursuing a bad guy on foot and later, on a motorcycle and finally, a car. It has the feel and tone of a Bond-like chase set piece but too bad this is the only action scene that I enjoy in The Mother.

Jennifer Lopez and Lucy Paez in Netflix's "The Mother" (2023)

The rest is as bland as they get with one of the shoot-out sequences taking place in a dimly lit building (again!) and this time, I’m not sure why Caro and Seresin figure it’s a good idea to add the odd-looking, partially blurry shots in some scenes. It looks as if such an ill-advised creative choice is to mask the lack of budget in this movie or it could be simply their intended decision after all. Either way, it’s visually distracting and certainly does little to elevate the moment.

The story — credited to Misha Green, Andrea Berloff and Peter Craig — is nothing more than a mother forces back into action to protect her daughter. It has shades of Taken and Jennifer Lopez’s no-nonsense persona proves to be the right fit for this kind of action movie. She does a good job in her physically-demanding role but the overall tepid screenplay undermined her character.

Not even the extended scene takes place in the Alaskan wilderness, where we see Lopez’s character sharing a mother-and-daughter bonding with Zoe in a remote cabin. We see the awkward and sometimes deadpan interactions between the two of them because the movie wants us to understand that Lopez’s character was from a military background. She’s been trained to kill and she’s good at what she does but it was the complete opposite when comes to motherhood, even though she shows some maternal instincts towards her daughter.

Unfortunately, the movie fails to establish a worthy, let alone emotional connection between Lopez’s character and her daughter, Zoe. Blame it on the lack of substantial character development and not to mention, it doesn’t help when the story drags longer than it should with poorly-conceived flashbacks while the story surrounding the possible father to Lopez’s character’s daughter is simply glossed over. Joseph Fiennes and Gael Garcia Bernal, who play Lopez’s character’s former lovers and also the movie’s antagonists are disappointingly bland as if they show up for mere paycheck roles. Fiennes fares the worst, looking all bored and disinterested each time he shows up on the screen.

Frankly, The Mother actually has the potential of becoming a solid action thriller and Jennifer Lopez could have joined the ranks of say, Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde) and Halle Berry (John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) as one of the best female action stars breaking into the action-movie territory. It’s a pity what we have here is a largely dull and paint-by-numbers action thriller.

The Mother is currently streaming on Netflix.