Mama Weed has some strange ideas about where our sympathies should lie. The premise is a familiar one, especially for fans of a long-running, massively popular television franchise that began in a similar place: A woman, faced with some debt and medical costs, stumbles upon a cache of illicit drugs and decides to moonlight as a dealer away from her day job, as translator for the police. Patience Portefeux (Isabelle Huppert), who must have one of the great movie-character names in recent memory, is not herself in any terrific mortal danger, however. She needs to pay the two months of overdue fees necessary to keep her ailing mother (Liliane Rovère) in a nursing home, and that’s about it. It’s not nothing, of course, but this plan seems both too elaborate and too reliant upon unbelievable coincidence to buy it as a foil for such a dire situation.

The story isn’t much more than a procedural: Patience translates Arabic to French for a police unit run by her supervisor/boyfriend Philippe (Hippolyte Girardot). When she hears Kadidja (Farida Ouchani), the nurse in charge of her mother’s care at the institution, on a phone call with the central person of interest in the drug-smuggling case that has occupied the department, she springs into action. First, she helps Kadidja smuggle her son away from the police at the last minute, in a plan with so many logical holes and events that point right back at her that one wonders how any members of the police unit have managed to keep their jobs.

Her second order of business is to stash the van-and-a-half’s worth of drugs, stolen from the sanctuary set up by the Cherkaoui brothers (Youssef Sahraoui and Kamel Guenfoud), in the basement storage of her apartment building. Along the way, she puts her landlady (Nadja Nguyen), who helps to launder the money from sales, and two informants, Scotch (Rachid Guellaz) and Cocoa Puff (Mourad Boudaoud), on her own payroll. In perhaps the cleverest gag in writer/director Jean-Paul Salomé’s screenplay, Patience also adopts a dog from the K-9 unit, both as an intimidation technique for anyone who might come around and as a way of getting ahead of the cops on the dealers’ trail.

Huppert’s performance here is one of the great actress’s rare missteps. There isn’t anything distinctive about Patience as a character, and Huppert is seemingly unable to find a way to elevate the tired procedural material. As Philippe and the other cops close in on the location of the drugs, and as the dealers begin to realize something is very wrong in their operation, the film reveals itself to be simply a bit of comic-caper fluff without anything to say about Patience, her dilemma, or the various pieces in movement around her.

Mama Weed does gain some integrity from the supporting cast, such as how Girardot manages to beef up the role of Philippe, a nothingburger of a character who is simply here to be played for a fool until the other shoe drops, and Guellaz and Boudaoud are clearly having a lot of fun as the bumbling informants. One simply watches the movie play out, though, with a detached sense of amusement. By the end, one’s hand closes on air.

Huppert’s performance here is one of the great actress’s rare missteps.
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