Streaming Friday on Netflix, The Mother constitutes Jennifer Lopez’s application to the AARP ass-stomper academy. She plays a crack military sniper turned gun-runner and eventual FBI informant. When a putrescent paramour from her past (Joseph Fiennes) turns up with guns blazing, she and her about-to-pop newborn daughter barely survive. Does this character have a name? Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. She’s THE MOTHER.
Anyway: The Mother knows this child won’t be safe with her, so she surrenders her for “the most boring, stable life there is” under two conditions: On every birthday, the FBI will send word the child is safe. And if anybody wants to find hell with this kid, she will show them what it’s like. Twelve years later, you can imagine where it goes from here: The Mother fixes the cable … on many explosive devices.
However amusing, the film’s niftiest visual cross-cuts footage of a lackey’s body flipped in the air by a car and a bouquet tossed by a tangential bride. Beyond this bit, Gael Garcia Bernal’s amusing hairpiece and a legitimately funny discussion of the violence inherent to producing any food (even cashew cheese), The Mother leans heavily on old and borrowed.
It’s a painfully self-serious lift from The Long Kiss Goodnight, a less physically persuasive photocopy of Atomic Blonde and — with 25 cuts in one 23-second stretch — a more spatially disoriented demolition derby than Liam Neeson climbing a fence in Tak3n. With an editorial rhythm to match the spastic, futile last gasps of its many dying henchmen, The Mother is almost enough to make one long for the comparatively clean lines of Netflix’s Extraction — which the algorithm will almost certainly serve up RIYL-style as this film fades to black. (Like Extraction, it’s at least decent enough to clock out at 105 minutes pre-credits.)
Largely undemanding, unimaginative and unremarkable, The Mother is below both the considerable talent of its director (Niki Caro, Whale Rider) and the persuasive ferocities of its star and producer. Lopez’s light chest-tapping tactic to steady a racing heart feels like a learned behavior internalized by an actress respectful in observance of real-world warriors, and she also underplays a line to Omari Hardwick’s hunky FBI agent of “It’s like you knew I was thirsty all the time” while still conveying a charged connection.
Cinematographer Ben Seresin (Godzilla vs. Kong) also sometimes emphasizes the Mother’s tunnel vision to save her endangered daughter by smearing everything but the center of the frame. But once he yoinks it from her perspective, it’s just showy affectation in a rote action film riddled with atrocious ADR work, Sudden Window Kill Shots and From-Nowhere Car Crashes with zero sense of style or surprise, and a lot of butt-rock arpeggios from composer Germaine Franco.
“Civilization is built on the little things,” the Mother is told by someone chiding her for not offering so much as a hello when jumping into a vehicle. Instead, The Mother is built on music cues from Massive Attack (yes, they dusted off “Angel”) and Kate Bush (not that one). This action subgenre might have a little life in it yet, but The Mother doesn’t have a lot of strength left.