Peppermint is a revenge movie starring Jennifer Garner as Riley North. Riley’s family is murdered in a drive by shooting after her husband is wrongfully connected to a plan to steal some cartel money. Peppermint follows Riley’s progression from mourning mother dealing with a tragic loss, to avenging angel looking for “justice” for those responsible.
A lot of people seem to be making a big deal that this is Garner’s return to her “action roots”. I don’t know. That didn’t really excite me. I mean, I wasn’t a fan of her popular TV show, Alias, and her action movies that came out as a result of her popularity from that show were all pretty awful. She did Daredevil, Elektra, then The Kingdom. You can’t honestly tell me any of those were even decent. Personally, I was more excited that Peppermint is directed by Pierre Morel. I figured the director of Taken and From Paris with Love could make an enjoyable action movie.
First things first, I want to go on record right now and say I was wrong not to be excited about Jennifer Garner. She is absolutely FANTASTIC in this role and she is able to play every part of her character flawlessly. The bits where she gets to play the happy mother are all pretty cliche and corny, but she plays the part well. After her family is murdered, Garner really gets to show off her acting ability. Again, the writing is pretty cliche and doesn’t do her any favors, but her ability more than makes up for it. She shows us her pain after her loss, and her helplessness when the corrupt justice system fails her.
Riley then disappears for a bit, and returns as a badass out for revenge. Again, this aspect of her character is mostly cliche (you’re probably starting to see a trend here), but Garner is able to overcome that with her charisma and sheer dedication to the role. She commits to the character and to the action scenes 100% and is able to inject some life into the character. Her commitment and ability make Riley North’s transition from loving mother to cold-blooded killer believable, and I never once doubted that she could hold her own in a fist fight or a gun fight.
Thankfully there are plenty of those fist fights and gun fights to fill out the movie. The problem is, every action scene is entirely forgettable. There’s a shootout in a warehouse, a shootout in a house, a shootout in another warehouse (but this time there are pinatas everywhere), you get the point. The set pieces are bland and unimaginative and, after a while, it feels like they’re just showing the same scenes over.
As I pointed out earlier, Pierre Morel is a veteran action director and he mostly delivers in this one. For the most part, he holds the camera still, so all the action can be seen clearly. He also does a good job of establishing the geography of the scene. This is especially important in the shootouts, so we are never confused as to where people are or who is shooting at whom. So, while some of the action set pieces are mundane and most are forgettable, I have to give Morel credit for them at least being competently filmed.
The worst part of Peppermint and, unfortunately, the part that prevents this movie from being anything but average, is the writing. The story is, at worst, horrible, and, at best, completely unoriginal and uneven. All of the characters are written poorly as well and, sadly, the actors don’t have the ability to elevate their characters beyond anything other than one-note caricatures.
I was most disappointed in how Riley was written though. There were many moments throughout the movie that she would do something that seemed completely out of character. Her entire purpose for living now is to bring justice to the people that wronged her and to be a “guardian angel” to those people that can’t defend themselves from violent criminals, specifically in Skid Row where she is living. I have no issue with that. That’s typical revenge movie stuff.
What I do have an issue with are the moments where she is violent towards innocent people for no reason at all. We see her steal a man’s car after she survives an explosion. She is staggering down the street covered in dirt and blood and the man stops to offer her help. Instead she steals his car. Ok fine, she didn’t hurt him and she need to escape so I guess I can get over that one, but it gets worse. She beats up a man in a convenience store because, in her opinion, he is a bad father and he drinks too much. She holds a gun to his head and threatens to kill him if he ever drinks again. She doesn’t stop there though! She then points the gun at the store clerk and threatens to kill him if he tells anybody about it, despite the fact that he is an innocent man who has done NOTHING wrong, and she steals his car (stolen car number two!). Even all of THAT isn’t the worst thing she does.
At the beginning of the movie, we see a woman with a daughter the same age as Riley’s daughter. This woman is confrontational towards Riley and it is established that their two daughters don’t get along. Later in the movie, Riley is injured and shows up to this woman’s house because she has nowhere else to go. The woman opens her door and Riley punches her in the face and knocks her out for no reason at all. She then ties this woman up in her kitchen and points a gun at her head causing her to pee all over herself. Riley makes fun of the woman’s divorce, taunts her for losing custody of her children, then makes a joke about burning the house down with the woman in it before leaving and stealing her car (That makes THREE stolen cars now!)
What is the point of this scene?! Is it supposed to show that Riley is tough? Is it supposed to be funny? “Oh, ha ha, this woman was a bitch earlier in the movie and now Riley made her pee herself.” That’s not funny. Are we supposed to believe this woman deserves this treatment? Even if I believe that rude people deserve some sort of karma, knocking them out and threatening to kill them seems SLIGHTLY overboard. That type of violence is exactly the kind of things Riley is punishing criminals for. Is it supposed to be ok for her to do it, because we are told she is the good person? I don’t have the answers to those questions, and I doubt the writer could even answer them. It’s just awful, AWFUL writing that makes Riley hard to root for.
Overall, Peppermint feels like a movie made by, and starring, people that are completely fine with being mediocre. The action is competently filmed, but bland and unengaging. There’s no reason to invest yourself in any of the characters because they don’t even TRY to give you a reason. This is a movie with no subtlety, no grey areas, and no depth, and everybody is ok with that. The exception is Jennifer Garner. Her performance is fantastic, and it becomes even more fantastic when you consider what she accomplished. She took an awful character and made her totally engrossing. She then used that character to carry an otherwise awful movie. Kudos to her. Everybody else involved should be ashamed.
RATING: 4 out of 10