THE MOTHER (2023) – Standard Actioner Saved by Strong Mother/Daughter Dynamic

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Just in time for Mother’s Day, it’s THE MOTHER (2023), a new action thriller which just premiered on Netflix that stars Jennifer Lopez as an assassin who also happens to be a mother and who will do anything to protect her 12-year-old daughter from the deadly thugs who are trying to kill her.

Sound familiar?

It should. Because recently there has been a slew of action movies featuring super deadly female assassins, often protecting a child from harm, films like LOU (2022), GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (2021), and KATE (2021) to name just a few. It’s a formula that’s wearing thin.

THE MOTHER, which is rated R and goes heavy with the violence, gets off to a good start, then sinks into a series of scenes that strain credibility, before eventually getting much better towards the end.

The movie opens with Jennifer Lopez’s character, who remains nameless throughout the movie, being questioned by F.B.I. agents who are trying to get her to give them information about a dangerous criminal, while promising her protection for doing so. She scoffs at this suggestion, saying that no one can protect her, and seconds later she’s proven correct, as snipers and assassins move in to kill her. She fights her way out of it, but the man who wants to kill her, Adrian (Joseph Fiennes) confronts her first, and when he sees that she is pregnant, violently stabs her in the belly. It’s a jarring opening scene.

Of course, she survives, as does the baby; hence, she becomes “the mother.” She agrees to give up her daughter for adoption in order to protect her, since Adrian also survived and is still hell bent on revenge. She disappears into the wilds of Alaska, until twelve years later, she learns that Adrian has discovered the whereabouts of her daughter Zoe (Lucy Paez), who’s now 12. She stakes out Zoe’s new family and watches her daughter, until Adrian makes his move. At that point, she grabs Zoe and takes her to Alaska where she plans to train her to survive, while waiting for Adrian to eventually find her.

THE MOTHER is a standard actioner with not much going for it until assassin mom takes her daughter Zoe to Alaska and trains her, because it’s in these sequences where Jennifer Lopez and young Lucy Paez share some onscreen chemistry, and the film pivots from unbelievable action movie to a somewhat heartfelt drama. Young Paez gives the best performance in the film, hands down. Her expressions, her emotions. She is a twelve-year-old who at first hates this woman who is her real mother and everything she stands for, but her feelings change as they grow close.

It’s also a decent performance by Lopez. Early on, she’s simply the emotionless assassin. Ho hum. But later in the scenes with her daughter Zoe, her character grows, and she becomes more watchable. In terms of believability, while the action scenes themselves strain credibility— every time there’s a fight, all the bad guys fall while Lopez escapes unscathed—, Lopez looks the part, and her performance is believable. She’s lean and mean, and I had no problem she could kick multiple people’s butts at the same time, but the sequences themselves were often over the top.

Joseph Fiennes, a fine actor, doesn’t do a whole lot here as evil bad guy Adrian. He’s not really a memorable villain. And Omari Hardwick has the thankless role of the F.B.I. agent who unlike mommy assassin gets shot, stabbed, and beaten up nearly every action sequence he appears in. It’s almost laughable.

THE MOTHER was directed by Niki Caro. The action sequences are slick and stylish, but the film’s best parts are in its latter half in Alaska, featuring scenes between mother and daughter. This is when the film is at its best. There’s also some neat sequences featuring wolves which factor thematically into the film.

The screenplay by Misha Green, Andrea Berloff, and Peter Craig like the rest of the movie works best when dealing with mother and daughter. The rest is all rather flat and uninspiring, and not very believable. Craig also worked on the screenplays for THE BATMAN (2022), and THE TOWN (2010), one of my favorite movies with Ben Affleck, who directed, who of course is Jennifer Lopez’ husband. Speaking of Affleck, both he and Lopez had movies released on the same weekend, as Affleck’s movie HYPNOTIC (2023) also just came out. I liked THE MOTHER better than HYPNOTIC.

I found the first half of THE MOTHER pretty standard and unimpressive, but it gets better, thanks largely to a neat performance by young Lucy Paez, as she and Jennifer Lopez lift the second half of the film to a much more satisfying final act.

I give it two and a half stars.

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars – Perfect, Top of the line

Three and a half stars- Excellent

Three stars – Very Good

Two and a half stars – Good

Two Stars – Fair

One and a half stars – Pretty Weak

One star- Poor

Zero stars – Awful

HUSTLERS (2019) – Strippers Turned Thieves Makes for Compelling Storytelling

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hustlers

Lili Reinhart, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer, and Constance Wu in HUSTLERS (2019).

HUSTLERS (2019) tells a story that’s difficult to dislike: a group of former strippers band together to steal back from the Wall Street types who benefitted from the stock market crash of 2008. And better yet, it’s based on a true story.

Combined with lively performances from its main players, and a script that’s insightful as well as comical, and you’ve got a winner of a movie in HUSTLERS.

HUSTLERS follows the story of Destiny (Constance Wu) who dances at a strip club, struggling to support herself and her grandmother (Wai Ching Ho). Things are tough, until she meets fellow dancer Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) who takes her under her wing and teaches her how to become a better dancer along with the ins and outs of the business.

Suddenly, life is good, and Destiny is making more money than she ever had before, until September 2008 when the stock market crashed and Wall Street clients simply weren’t dishing out free-flowing cash any longer. Eventually, Ramona hatches a plot with Destiny and two other fellow dancers Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) to scam their clients. As Ramona explains, it’s what these men did to everyone else, and so when they steal from these men, they’re just getting the money back from them. ┬áSo, they set up a scam where they drug their clients to the point where they don’t realize that the women are stealing from their credit cards.

There’s a lot to like about HUSTLERS. The cast, for starters, is on top of their game. I really enjoyed Constance Wu in the lead role as Destiny. Combined with the sharp writing from screenwriter and director Lorene Scafaria, Wu creates a three-dimensional character with Destiny. We see firsthand the frustrations in her life, from being unable to land even a retail job because of a lack of experience, to her desire to do well for grandmother, who raised her after her own mother abandoned her. Wu also was enjoyable in the lead role in last year’s romantic comedy CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018) but I liked her even more here.

Jennifer Lopez is equally as good as Ramona. Hers is the strongest personality of the group, driven by the need to care for those around her, even as she fails to see just how risky their racket is becoming. Lopez delivers the most energetic performance in the film.

And both Keke Palmer as Mercedes and Lili Reinhart as Annabelle are also excellent. I especially enjoyed Reinhart. She displayed a presence on screen that attracted attention even when sharing scenes with Lopez and Wu. Her running gag—literally— of throwing-up whenever she got nervous was one of my favorite parts of the movie. Reinhart plays Betty Cooper on the TV series RIVERDALE (2017-2019).

I also really enjoyed the script by director Lorene Scafaria, based on the magazine article by Jessica Pressler. The writing is perceptive and playful, and some of the situations are laugh out loud funny, although never ridiculous or silly. For instance, the sequence where they have to transport their naked unconscious client to the hospital is a keeper.

It also does a nice job with the drama, taking the time to really tell the stories of its two main characters, Destiny and Ramona. You understand where both these women are coming from, and you feel comfortable looking the other way when they swindle their clients.

The pacing is good, and the dancing scenes both frisky and eye-popping. Scafaria does as masterful a job behind the camera as she did writing the script.

The film also enjoys a lively music score.

In my neck of the woods, HUSTLERS didn’t really receive much fanfare or promotion. It just kind snuck into theaters. You might want to catch this one before it sneaks out.

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