One of Hollywood’s most famous power couples score a split decision starring in separate thrillers hitting the market the same day, as Ben Affleck’s lower-profile “Hypnotic” significantly outshines Jennifer Lopez’s just-in-time-for-Mother’s Day Netflix movie, “The Mother,” which comes across as an ultra-violent Hallmark card.
Lopez puts on her Liam Neeson hat in a movie whose abundant action is either enhanced or undermined, take your pick, by its unintentional giggles. The kill count generally provides the requisite thrills, but everything else seems stitched together from genre clichés.
The opening sequence sets the tone, with Lopez portraying a well-trained sniper who served in Afghanistan, negotiating a witness-protection deal in exchange for her testimony against two very bad guys, having been in relationships with both of them. After a violent raid she’s taken into FBI custody, allowing Edie Falco to appear for about 45 seconds, just long enough to force the nameless assassin to give up her newborn daughter in order to protect her.
Twelve years later, Lopez’s character is maintaining her anonymity by hanging out in the Alaskan wilderness when the girl, Zoe (Lucy Paez), has her cover blown, forcing her biological mom and an FBI agent (“Power’s” Omari Hardwick, like most of the supporting cast, deserving better) to dash off to retrieve her. They do, setting up a chance for mother and daughter to get to know each other – bonding between lessons in combat techniques – before the inevitable showdown.
Directed by Niki Caro (“Mulan”), “The Mother” gives Lopez (who doubled as its producer) an opportunity to snap off tough one-liners a la “Taken.” Realizing the girl is serving as bait in a trap, her proposed solution is to “Kill every last one of them.”
Joseph Fiennes and Gael Garcia Bernal can’t class up the joint as the bad boys from her past, who both excel at holding grudges. Yet beyond the inevitable tween-behaving-stupidly moments, there are head-scratching sequences, like a snowmobile chase that appears to have parachuted in from a James Bond movie.
Lopez has kept busy since her critically lauded role in “Hustlers,” but that’s come in the form of mostly forgettable vehicles, including the rom-com “Marry Me” and “Shotgun Wedding.” While she has admirably taken control over her career as a producer, her sniper character’s aim is considerably truer than her recent choices of material.
For Netflix, of course, just the image of Lopez across its home page – pointing a rifle under a big furry hat – is probably enough, and plenty of subscribers will likely be inclined to give “The Mother” a shot.
At one point, the mother speaks of Zoe’s ordeal by saying, “Let this all just be a bad memory.” “The Mother” isn’t quite that bad, but that sentiment resonates a more than it should.
Affleck fares considerably better in “Hypnotic,” a spare thriller from director/co-writer Robert Rodriguez that has the feel of a “Twilight Zone” episode, with no shortage of twists along the way.
Affleck plays Danny Rourke, a detective still devastated by the abduction of his young daughter. A strange tip connects him back to the crime, and to a psychic (Alice Braga) who tells him seemingly unrelated crimes are the work of a powerful hypnotic (William Fichtner, appropriately creepy), who can exercise a kind of mind control, prompting people to carry out whatever acts he desires.
There’s a lot more to it than that, including mind-bending visuals underscoring that it’s not always possible to believe your eyes against such an opponent. The sort-of possession involved evokes the Denzel Washington thriller “Fallen,” which had a more macabre tone but echoed the sense danger could come from anywhere.
“Hypnotic” becomes a little strained over its final act, but for the most part it’s fast-paced and clever, capitalizing on Rodriguez’s economical filmmaking style, which includes shooting and editing the film while enlisting family members in other key roles.
Although the movie is premiering theatrically, it’ll likely be streaming sooner than later, where it should play well.
As for Affleck, he actually has his own directing effort, “Air,” hitting Amazon Prime after a solid theatrical run. If the combination makes this a big weekend in the Affleck-Lopez household, it’s a better one for the first half of that equation.
“The Mother” premieres May 12 on Netflix. It’s rated R.
“Hypnotic” premieres May 12 in US theaters. It’s rated R.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Jennifer Lopez received an Oscar nomination for "Hustlers." She was nominated for other awards in connection with that film but not an Oscar.