Peppermint is a pointless and derivative bit of action movie nonsense. Sure, Jennifer Garner is the same badass actress who slayed us on Alias but that show was smart and intricate. Peppermint is little more than a hammer to the head. Director Pierre Morel directs Peppermint with the nuance of a sledgehammer and the artfulness of a drunk Michael Bay. It’s not the worst thing I’ve seen in 2018 but it’s pretty bad.
Jennifer Garner plays Riley North, a wife, mother and bank teller living in an idyllic Los Angeles suburb. The family is struggling despite having a lovely home in a well to do neighborhood and so the hubby, Chris (Jeff Hepner), decides a small criminal enterprise might help get them, I guess, a nicer house in the suburbs. Ultimately, he decides not to become a criminal but by then it is too late. A criminal friend has given up his name and drug dealers are coming to kill him.
While the whole family, including daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming), are enjoying a winter carnival they are being stalked by the drug dealers. Then, as dad and daughter are returning to their car, a drive by ensues and they are killed. Riley herself is struck by a bullet but survives. A devastated Riley then takes solace in the fact that she can identify the men who killed her family. Unfortunately, a corrupt judge and prosecutor take that from her and Riley breaks down.
Cut to five years later. Riley is now back in Los Angeles and has become a vigilante. She lives on skid row and beats the heck out of anyone who causes trouble there. She has her very own homeless person fan club. All of this is while she is ramping up to kill an entire Los Angeles street gang headed up by Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba). Soon, members of the gang are turning up gruesomely murdered and the cop who investigated Riley’s family’s murder, Detective Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr) comes to suspect Riley is to blame.
It’s a rather solid narrative when you write it out but in execution, Peppermint is a god-awful mess. Pierre Morel’s choices as a director are utter nonsense, slipping between quick cuts in one action scene and slo-mo in another. He’s like a kid learning how to play director and not the veteran director of the far superior revenge fantasy, Taken. Morel appears to mistake quick cuts and numerous angles for artfulness.
Jennifer Garner has rarely been less interesting in a lead role. It’s shocking to watch Garner be pushed along by this idiot movie rather than being the force generating the momentum as she always was on Alias. The performance has no nuance, no inner life beyond grief and revenge. Some might praise how straight-forward that is but it’s dull for anyone who prefers a hero with a brain in there head, especially one played by the former star of Alias, one of the smarter and resourceful heroines of recent television history.
Jennifer Garner is way better than this movie. She deserves better than this mindless, artless exercise in genre tropes. She deserves better than being unfavorably compared with Bruce Willis in the remake of Death Wish or the series of meatheads who’ve played The Punisher on the big screen. Garner’s performance is of one singular note and that note, though well played, is grim and artless.
The only actor who escapes Peppermint with anything close to a good performance is longtime character actor John Ortiz. Playing the partner of John Gallagher Jr’s detective, Ortiz ingeniously subverts our expectations and plays up the ambiguity of his character before a reveal that legitimately excited me. It was a fleeting excitement, but excitement nevertheless as Ortiz smartly reveals his character.
Peppermint is a grisly and grim exercise in action movie nonsense. It wants to play on our emotions by having a grieving mom as David versus a street gang goliath, but it isn’t smart about how to tell that story. Instead, we get a rush of violent scenes that are cut together in a blender and assembled with the rapidity of AK-47. We can barely see the action before it is over and since we can’t get to know the characters or be entertained by them, we’re left to wallow in the grim artlessness of director Morel’s dimwitted revenge fantasy.