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Review: Jennifer Lopez goes full Liam Neeson in the revenge thriller ‘The Mother’

Jennifer Lopez, left, and Lucy Paez in the movie "The Mother."
(Netflix)
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‘The Mother’

Jennifer Lopez plays a classic “hero with no name”-type in “The Mother,” a revenge thriller in which her character is an underworld assassin trained by the U.S. military. In the movie’s opening sequence, the heavily pregnant heroine reluctantly cooperates with the FBI on an operation that goes horribly awry. She delivers her baby prematurely and is persuaded by the government to give the child up for adoption and go into hiding. But 12 years later, the Mother gets word from a trusted FBI source (Omari Hardwick) that her daughter, Zoe (Lucy Paez), is being targeted by some of her bitterest enemies — a ruthless ex-boss (Joseph Fiennes) and a sadistic gun runner (Gael Garcia Bernal).

“The Mother” is ostensibly an action movie, though Lopez (who is also a producer on this film) and director Niki Caro include plenty of quieter scenes of maternal bonding amid all the chases and shootouts in Misha Green’s script (co-written with Andrea Berloff and Peter Craig). To keep Zoe safe, the Mother takes her deep into the snowy wilderness to teach her survival skills. The pair warm to each other as they work on tracking and shooting.

Caro — best-known for the Oscar-nominated “Whale Rider” and “North Country” — effectively contrasts the open landscapes of the Mother’s hideaway with the constrictions of the parking garages, hallways, city streets and cluttered crime lairs where she plies her trade. The basic contours of this story are well worn (flip the main character’s gender and this could easily be a Liam Neeson picture). And the stakes are generic with a vague concept of “motherhood” as the heroine’s main objective. But from scene to scene, Lopez and Caro do fill these broad outlines with real feeling, bringing a personal touch to old pulp archetypes.

‘“he Mother.” Rated R for violence, some language and brief drug use. 1 hour, 55 minutes. Available on Netflix; also playing theatrically, Bay Theater, Pacific Palisades

Adèle Exarchopolous in the movie "The Five Devils."
(MUBI)
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‘The Five Devils’

French filmmaker Léa Mysius finds a fascinatingly fresh way to introduce flashbacks into her arty drama “The Five Devils.” A young girl named Vicky (Sally Dramé), bullied at school, obsessively retreats into her favorite hobby: using a mix of ingredient gathering and witchcraft to replicate other people’s scents, which she stores in glass jars. While capturing the particular aromas of her mother Joanne (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and her aunt Julia (Swala Emati), Vicky begins having visions of these two women’s tragic history together as competitive athletes whose forbidden lust caused a scandal and destroyed lives in their picturesque mountain town.

Mysius and her co-writer Paul Guilhaume use Vicky’s mystical powers as a way not just to tell Joanne and Julia’s story, but to explore its repercussions in the modern day, where Vicky — a product of the choices Joanne and Julia made — is treated as an outcast and even a bit of a burden. “The Five Devils” saves some of the juiciest revelations for its final act, which can make the comparatively coy first hour feel frustratingly oblique at times. But this alluring and sneakily emotional film is never confusing, because its primary focus is on how Vicky’s family keeps trying in vain to shield her from their mistakes. Instead, their regret remains palpable, clinging to them like a stench.

“The Five Devils.” In French with subtitles. Not rated. 1 hour, 36 minutes. Available on Mubi

‘Crater’

There are echoes of “The Goonies” and “Tomorrowland” in “Crater,” a kid-friendly take on dystopian science-fiction. Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez from a John Griffin screenplay (with a story credit for Rpin Suwannath), the film follows five teens living on a lunar mining colony run by an exploitative bureaucracy. While exploring some of the moon’s forbidden zones, the kids stumble across old construction projects containing remnants of the shinier future that Earth’s population had once been promised.

Because it’s aimed at a younger audience, “Crater” skews sugary, in ways that conflict with the bitterness inherent in its premise. The movie is also a little low on action, despite the heroes dancing on the edge of danger throughout. That said, sometimes it’s nice to see something so … nice. There’s an infectious quality to these young explorers’ optimism in the face of the seemingly no-win situation into which most of them were born. In a clever use of metaphor, the filmmakers have built an appealing world of wonders, hidden below the moon’s barren surface — suggesting there are fragments of hope embedded within even the grimmest landscapes.

“Crater.” Rated PG for thematic material, action/peril and language. 1 hour, 45 minutes. Available on Disney+

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