In news, non-illustrated, Review

If you’ve ever seen Jennifer Lopez at the top of her form, as in the films OUT OF SIGHT, SELENA, and HUSTLERS, you know she can have fun onscreen. Unfortunately, she’s decided to play the new, pulpy actioner THE MOTHER as if it’s MEDEA, and her oh-so-serious take on the material makes for one extreme downer of a movie. Director Niki Caro seems keenly aware of the kitsch in the material, premiering on Netflix today, but her efforts are thwarted at every turn by a lead actress who plays exactly two notes throughout the hour and 55-minute run time – surly and surlier.

THE MOTHER is another film in a long line of imitators following in the footsteps of TAKEN. But even Liam Neeson, a far more accomplished actor than Lopez, knew that material he stooped to do was utter claptrap. That’s why he played it a little big, snarling and clomping about. (He played the silliness in that film almost exactly the same as he did in Sam Raimi’s DARKMAN, an over-the-top superhero film.) Not once in this movie does Lopez come even close to Neeson’s self-awareness. And with all the silliness swirling around her, there’s no excuse for her to go through such proceedings with blinders on.

The first clue that THE MOTHER is a million miles from serious is that she’s playing a hitman here, easily the most overcooked cliché of careers in actioners these days. The second clue is that the opening scene finds her in an absurd scene in a safe house where a boastful Fed reminds her that she’s wholly safe from those after her right before his head is blown off and her whole protective detail is wiped out. Third, Lopez’s character is not only in hiding for agreeing to turn in her former lover/gun-runner/disgruntled employer Adrian (Joseph Fiennes) but who shows up to do her and the Feds in? Of course, Adrian, leading his crew to wipe out all the G-men. And fourth, even though she’s preggers with his child, he stabs her in the belly. It’s all an over-the-top and ridiculous way to start a movie.

From there on, Lopez’s character, known only as “The Mother” – check the IMDB page – continues to play everything in the same ultraserious fashion.  Before escaping, she sets fire to Fiennes, and later in the hospital, delivers a healthy baby. All with the gravest of faces. But because she’s a former baddie, the Feds take away the kid and mom is carted off to some sort of witness protection limbo up in Alaska, her former home.

That’s a lot of hooey just 15 minutes into the film, but screenwriters Misha Green, Andrea Berloff, and Peter Craig keep piling on more and more. Their script fast-forwards a decade later to find Fiennes and his crew still mad about what happened, only now they’re after Lopez’s pre-teen daughter Zoe (Lucy Paez), to get to her biological mom. (BTW…I wanted to know what Fienne’s seriously fried baddie was doing all that time away. Was he being nursed back to health in Italy by a comely, French-Canadian woman? You know, like his brother?)

After mom reunites with her daughter, they start getting to know each other as they run from one violence-filled escape after another. The girl’s a quick study, picking up on all of mom’s varied weapon skills. Director Caro keeps trying to inject humor into all of this, sometimes successfully, other times not so much. One big laugh comes when she shows a thug flying into the air after being hit by a car before cutting to a nearby wedding bouquet sharing the same trajectory. But then along comes Lopez to put a damper on things.

Even when her character starts showing Zoe how to hide land mines in the snow, Lopez stays stalwart. She seemed to understand how to play such pulp 2o years ago when she had fun kicking it up with Billy Campbell in the revenge thriller ENOUGH. She seemed game, playing well off a clever Campbell who knew how to mix wit into his villainy. But this outing, Lopez reminded me of Demi Moore when she stopped being fun in films and only played anger. Moore even failed to find the funny in STRIPTEASE, a film that was clearly written to be a farce. I hope Lopez’s new screen persona isn’t doomed to end up as strident as hers. The hitman character Lopez plays in THE MOTHER may deliver a lot of righteous killing in the story, but what the actress contributes to the proceedings is little more than a never-ending buzzkill.

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