de facto film reviews 3 stars

JLO is a Mother. She’s also now THE Mother. Yes, that is not only the given name for her character, but the title of the film, in which Lopez states, “I’m a mother”, at least a dozen times. After a couple middling romantic comedies post her Hustlers comeback, Jennifer Lopez returns to more dramatic material with a Netflix thriller that rises above its admittedly low expectations. 

Directed by Whale Rider and North Country filmmaker Niki Caro, The Mother is a sturdy meat-and-potatoes actioner. 12 years after she was forced to give up her newborn daughter, Lopez’s deadly assassin Mother is forced back into action after Arms Dealers and former flames Adrian (Joseph Fiennes) and Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) kidnap her daughter Zoe (Lucy Paez), who’s been living with an adopted family and knows nothing of her birth parents. Along with her trusted ally FBI agent Cruise (Omari Hardwick), the highly trained Mother begins a violent quest to rescue her daughter, and to confront her past.

Lopez, never one to phone in a performance, fully commits to the part, in both the physicality and dramatic heft of the story. This is the kind of movie star role that Lopez relishes and she’s never anything less than endlessly compelling. Brandishing a sniper rifle for the first time since Out of Sight, Lopez, alongside her many stunt doubles, truly embodies the badass nature of the character, while selling the slick stunt choreography.

The action is tight and exciting, with the highlight of the film being a tense chase through Havana. Despite some over-editing, there’s a real thrill to some of the set pieces. Composer Germaine Franco (Encanto) implements a memorable rock-themed score with heavy electric guitars shredding through the films most high-octane sequences. You also get some fun action star beats such a motorcycle chase where JLO crashes her bike into a car and the driver gets out to yell at her, only for Lopez to take off her helmet and pop the drive in the face and steal his car. There’s some violent bits of dark comedy like a villain who violently shoves women out of the way, including a nun(!), several times. Caro even throws in a number of stylish compositions, most notably the contrast between a baddie flying through the air after being struck by a car and a wedding bouquet being tossed in the air.

Caro infuses more personality than in a lot of Netflix original films/content machines. The efficient opening sets the stage for a taut, grounded story, while the greater action beats feel weighted as this isn’t a totally overblown spectacle. The dynamic between Lopez and her on-screen daughter, played very effectively by Lucy Paez, has the proper weight behind it, even if some characterizations run a little thin. Omari Hardwick, always a great screen presence, plays the glorified sidekick who humorously gets the shit kicked out of him numerous times throughout the first 40 minutes alone. Oscar-nominee Paul Raci is welcomingly cast as Lopez’s local ally near her home in Alaska. An exchange between Gael Garcia Bernal and Lopez is fiery and tense, with an immediate sense of danger the film only ever flirts with. Unfortunately, Joseph Fiennes’ Adrian plays like a glorified Bond villain-wannabe, fitted with facial scars and a semi-vague accent.

Given the title, there’s plenty of mommy symbolism that typically ends up little more than heavy handed. When Lopez stares off against an angry wolf, only to see a pack of pups off to the side, you can easily sense what the film is trying to say. In case you somehow missed it early on, Caro repeats this same point later on, simply to drill in the meaning. Given the writing talent behind the film, Misha Green (HBO’s Lovecraft Country), Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) and Peter Craig (Top Gun: Maverick), you can practically tell which sections have been heavily rewritten or compressed, with blatant exposition often masking certain major back stories.

The Mother is a better-than-expected action thriller released by Netflix, anchored by a terrific lead performance by Jennifer Lopez. There are some clunky passages, but the exciting set pieces and strength of its premise largely overshadow the film’s shortcomings. If the majority of Netflix original films are meant to be seen while folding laundry or as basic background noise, consider giving this one your full attention.