J.Lo’s movie star charisma is intact in Niki Caro’s adequate Netflix thriller The Mother

Jennifer Lopez leads action thriller The Mother as a deadly assassin who comes out of hiding to protect the daughter that she gave up years before. It’s a familiar flick that neither over- nor under-delivers, writes Tony Stamp.

I don’t know which Netflix executive decided to release The Mother—a movie that features a scene of Jennifer Lopez’s very pregnant belly getting casually stabbed by Joseph Fiennes early in its runtime—in time for Mother’s Day, but I’m not sure it was a good idea.

Don’t worry though: we’re soon informed the baby was born safely. Due to Lopez’s character being under threat from ex-SAS agents and arms dealers alike after turning FBI informant though, she leaves the child with a foster family and goes into hiding for twelve years.

It’s as good a setup as any for the type of adequate, inoffensive mid-level action thriller Netflix has gotten quite proficient at in recent years. This one comes helmed by New Zealand director Niki Caro, who promptly took her career overseas after the success of Whale Rider, and hit a nadir with 2020’s Mulan remake. The Mother finds her in much safer territory, helped immensely by her lead actor.

J Lo’s character is literally called ‘The Mother’, a military operative with excellent survival skills and a physique to match. At one point she leans on a railing and her back muscles flex distractingly. Later a wispy-haired and hammy Gael Garcia Bernal asks “How do you still look so good?”

When her daughter is kidnapped, it sets up a chain of events very familiar from a long list of Taken imitators. Think Ava, or Kate, or Peppermint, or Colombiana. It’s made with competence and the occasional bit of visual panache by Caro, but sadly, while some effort is made to show the lead actor performing her own stunts, the action is choppily edited and flat.

There are some comfortingly well-worn action movie tropes, like a hunky FBI agent love interest, and the lesser Fiennes brother playing a weirdly-voiced, facially-scarred villain. And in the end, this is one of those movies about a tough, battle-hardened agent landed with a surrogate family. It just happens to be her real daughter in this case.

A few moments try to up the ante in the shock department, like a waterboarding with soda or a gun barrel to the crotch, but the more engaging sequences are the ones that innovate, however vaguely, like a pursuit through Havana, an infiltration set to Massive Attack’s Angel, and managing to film a car crash in a way that feels fresh (ie not a 90-degree shot aimed out the window at a surprise oncoming vehicle).

At times the colours are allowed to pop, and the whole thing does look better than your average Netflix production—not too much grey-brown colour grading here (although some). The real locations look great, and there are a few striking images.

Garcia Bernal and Fiennes play things pretty cartoonish, but Lopez is giving a real performance, and she’s the main reason to watch. The Mother is a familiar character, and this is a movie devoid of humour, but she manages to be likeable and generate actual human emotions when it matters. As it turns out, the movie neither over- nor under-delivers, but J.Lo’s movie star charisma is intact.