Well, at least Jennifer Garner looked like she was having fun.
Peppermint, the latest actioner from Taken director Pierre Morrel, could have worked. Its concept is tried and true: when cartel members gun down the husband and daughter of Riley North (Garner), she decides to take vengeance for herself. In other words, she becomes a female approximation of The Punisher. Sounds serviceable enough, right?
Unfortunately, Peppermint struggles to overcome some serious storytelling hurdles that make the proceedings more bitter than sweet. The obvious first issue is that Morrel opts for a non-linear structure that leaves out the most intriguing part of the story. The film opens on Riley completing a kill in the present day before jumping five years in the past.
Instead of taking the audience through how she became a cold blooded killer, Morrel and screenwriter Chad St. John spend no less than twenty minutes of screen time with the family. In a better film, this could’ve been useful time to develop a relationship and instill a sense of purpose in Riley’s mission, but John opts to throw every cliché in the book at the script to try and manipulate the audience into believing there’s any chemistry between Garner and Carly Fleming, who portrays her daughter Carly.
We have no idea who Carly and Riley’s husband really are beyond their connection to her, which makes it hard to get invested at all.
When we finally return to Riley’s path of vengeance, there is little improvement. The action sequences are surprisingly dull. Riley mows down scores of enemies with little finesse or visual style. There are a couple of light moments of gore here and there, including an admittedly slick brawl in a Pinata store, but cinematographer David Lanzenberg opts to frame his action like a direct-to-video film from the early 2000s.
The story around the action doesn’t really go anywhere interesting either. It’s incredibly hard to follow just what Riley’s plan is for taking down the criminal organization that killed her family or even how the organization operates. John Gallagher Jr. is the lone bright spot in the supporting cast as a wise ass cop on Riley’s trail. If the film had given Gallagher Jr. more to do, this might’ve been a bit more watchable. Yet, the rest of the supporting cast fall into two categories: cop stereotype or Latinx stereotype.
Regarding the latter, this film- intentionally or not- comes across as overtly racist. Nearly every villain is an ugly “gangbanger” type portrayed by a Latinx actor, with not a single one of them being portrayed as even slightly complex. Morel really should’ve thought about the message he was sending here, because this is downright irresponsible.
As the film barrels towards a messy, unsatisfying finish in the slums where Riley resides, it overuses social media and news footage to fill in gaps in the story. This reeks of laziness, while also showing a fundamental misunderstanding of how technology works. Riley manages to FaceTime into a news station, for crying out loud!
What’s most disappointing about Peppermint is that Jennifer Garner is good, even great as Riley. She fully commits to the role, spouting one-liners and bringing the physicality that’s required for her character. If this film were better, this could’ve lead to a Keanu Reeves-style career renaissance for Garner.
Alas, it was not mean to be, as Peppermint comes closer in quality to Elektra than it does to Alias. Despite its title, Peppermint gives is far from a treat. 3/10 –James Preston Poole
Peppermint hits theaters September 7th!
Riley North awakens from a coma after surviving a brutal attack that killed her husband and daughter. When the system shields the murderers from justice, Riley sets out to transform herself from citizen to urban guerrilla. Channeling frustration into motivation, the young widow spends years in hiding — honing her mind, body and spirit to become an unstoppable force. Eluding the underworld, the police and the FBI, Riley embarks on a deadly quest to deliver her own personal brand of punishment.