' ' Cinema Romantico: The Mother

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

The Mother

“Well, whatever you’ve done, you’re still here,” says a friend (Paul Raci) of the eponymous, nameless Mother (Jennifer Lopez). “Still time to make it right.” Because “The Mother” is the latest action thriller off the Netflix conveyor belt, meaning The Mother is an ex-American military operative, making it right, in this case, does not connote having a long talk with the daughter she doesn’t know so much as offing innumerable bad guys, connection by way of protection by way of death and destruction, a classic recipe, the “Commando” casserole. That’s a reference to the 1985 action movie in which Arnold Schwarzenegger played a retired Special Forces Colonel forced to off bad guys to save his kidnapped daughter (Alyssa Milano). If “Commando’s” tongue might not have been entirely in its cheek, it nevertheless had a gleam in its eye, letting you know that it knew we were all here to have some fun.

Occasionally, you catch a gleam in the eye of “The Mother,” in the space of characters literally remarking on The Mother’s otherworldly JLo-ian beauty or in how it takes no pains to dress JLo during her wilderness scenes as anything less than a movie star, looking like a fashion model straight from the Ralph Lauren Off the Grid collection, which I mean as a compliment, I really do, the very reason I wish “The Mother” received a theatrical run rather than just getting streamed on Netflix. This sort of amusement, however, just skirts along the movie’s edge, never brought to the fore, preferring the tone of the lighting in the introductory safe house sequence – very, very, very dark. The Mother, see, has been helping broker arms deals between two nefarious underworld actors (Joseph Fiennes and Gael Garcia Bernal) and now she has turned informant, eventually putting her newborn baby up for adoption to protect before hightailing it to Alaska to hide out. Until, that is, the two underworld actors start looking for some payback. 

The somber tone, though, rinses away all the soapiness of the soap opera twist that one of the nefarious underworld actors is the father of The Mother’s baby. The eponymous character claims to have gotten off on controlling these men, but in flashback scenes neither Lopez nor the movie itself evokes this sensation. No, despite the heavy-handed symbolism of the Alaskan scenes with a pack of wolves, JLo has better chemistry in the necessarily broken up shots with a mother wolf than she does with Fiennes or Garcia Bernal. Indeed, while the overriding seriousness can make this exercise in casual streaming too much of a slog, it works well in spots, especially in the burgeoning relationship between Mother and Daughter, the preteen Zoe (Lucy Paez). True, the complicated, if not disturbing psychology, is elided, but Paez impressively creates a real teenager by grounding all her character’s dumb decisions in kids do the darndest things obliviousness. Lopez’s refusal to ever wink at the audience, meanwhile, eventually becomes endearing, in a weird, counterproductive way, so buried in the part of motherly protection that she seems to be saying no one gets to have any fun until all the bad guys are dead.

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