Stream or skip?

In the Polish action film Mother’s Day (Now on Netflix) plays Agnieszka Grochowska, a former secret agent who has spent the last 18 years trying not to be dead, even though most of the rest of the world thinks she is. It’s a dirty life, and though she’s mentally exhausted is, as is always the case in films, she hasn’t lost a step when it comes to teasing serious pranks on people in society – which, of course, happens a lot in this film. Mateusz Rakowicz directs this unassumingly stylish endeavor, balancing the pathos of a solitary tale with the extravagance of a neo-martial arts film. But does it beat our hearts as effectively as our protagonist beats her enemies?

The essentials: Warsaw. The early morning hours. It’s Mother’s Day. Four brutal donkeys harass some girls in the parking lot. Nina (Grochowska) buys six Tallboys and uses them as damaging projectiles against the donkeys: Whap. splash. Etc. She takes a few punches, cracks one of the beers that survived the ordeal, goes home to her lonely little apartment, and gets up the next day to start her job as a crane operator at the junkyard. It is life in its most insignificant form. As is often the case with this particular character type, Nina has a secret: she used to be an elite soldier, but had to fake her death due to an unknown thing and one or three other unknown things. Only Igor (Dariusz Chojnacki), who I believe is a government insider – it’s never quite made clear – knows who she really is and that she’s not in the grave, which they stop by to spray flowers and us too provide film viewers with representation and context.

Because of the holidays, Nina is particularly brooding. When she’s not morose and miserable, she makes herself even more morose and miserable by pursuing the 17-year-old son she had to put up for adoption. Maks (Adrian Delikta) lives with a handsome adoptive couple, and Nina watches them through binoculars as they eat cake for his birthday. Later that night, she follows Maks on his social media accounts so she can see him happy and joking around with his friends. One night, Maks is skateboarding and minding his own business when ski hoods beat him up and throw him in the back of a van. Nina gets wind of this, and as we already pretty much know, she’s not the type to sit back and let the police sit idle while they conduct the missing persons investigation. No, she needs to kick ass, and she will.

Apparently nefarious people got wind of who Maks is and they know Nina is no longer alive so they’re looking for revenge or leverage or something. The leader of the gangster squad is a weirdo named Woltomierz (Szymon Wroblewski), who looks like an outcast from a Die Antwoord video and wears his father’s head in a jar of liquid on his coat, as well as a safe full of money and hosts constant orgies -Parties like he’s some kind of Eastern Bloc Caligula. Standing over him is a government official, Matka Niny (Dorota Kolak), stomping around and firing death glares like a parade grand marshal throwing candy at children. It’s an explosive scenario and heads will roll, but Nina is certainly not one of them.

Photo Netflix

What movies will it remind you of?: American Netflix film The mother boasts an overly similar premise with a bigger budget: Jennifer Lopez as a “retired” special forces unit who gave up her daughter for adoption and “retired” until the bad guys kidnapped the kid and forced mom to beat up a bunch of tushie. (The long kiss good night is also another composition, albeit a vastly superior one, thanks to Shane Black’s savage script and Renny Harlin’s insane direction.)

Notable performance: Grochowska plays a note and a half of a generally depressed woman pretty well and keeps her poker face even when things get silly.

Memorable dialogue: Igor expresses his skepticism about Nina’s ability to cope with a rather difficult task:

Igor: Impossible!

Nina: You said the same thing when I removed Saddam’s bomb.

gender and skin: Some ass and boobs and banter at Woltomierz’s party.

Our opinion: Rakowicz’s primary goal is clearly to build a film around some key action sequences, depictions of hand-to-hand combat (sometimes including baton fights and other similar fist-fighting combos) captured in lengthy takes, stitched together with clever editing, digitized tricks, and made Looney Tunish through violent ones slap stick Example: When Nina rams a big knife in the middle of an idiot’s forehead, he gets up, says “Take me to the hospital” and then falls dead. Fun? Ah. Maybe if you haven’t seen this before crank movies already.

The film’s undeniably clever and flashy direction would perhaps be even more exciting if it fitted better with the rest of the film, which is generally dark. Nina is a bitch of a character whose lonely pain dictates the scenes amidst all the violence and whose shifts of tone evoke whiplash rather than empathy or excitement. Nina isn’t a totally indestructible action hero – she gets spanked and tied up quite a bit, and it’s kind of a recurring gag, or it could have been if Rakowicz had let himself in for it. The director doesn’t find much appeal either with the supporting characters, eccentrics who are supposed to fill the space around our gray-shaded protagonist with color – Igor is a sleazy idiot, Woltomierz a crazy weirdo, Matka tries to keep control of her luxurious environments – but they don’t transcend their stereotypes. The film never really comes together into a satisfying whole, and emotionally it’s a false start; it’s too formulaic and it doesn’t stick its tongue deep enough in its cheek. A few nifty fight scenes don’t make a movie.

Our appeal: Mother’s Day is a misfire, so SKIP. However, if they put a gun to my head and forced me to choose, I would choose this movie over the bloated J-Lo flick.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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