Crime thrillers seem to be the go-to genre for casting actors in unconventional roles, potentially showing them in a new light. We saw it with Liam Neeson in Taken, Keanu Reeves in John Wick, and Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde. And in this regard, Peppermint reminds audiences of Jennifer Garner’s capacity for these physically demanding roles, rarely seen since her days on the TV series Alias. It’s just a shame that in every other regard Peppermint is an absolute bore.
After surviving a brutal drive-by shooting that killed her husband and daughter, Riley North’s (Jennifer Garner) testimony should have been enough to put the men responsible away for life. But during the trial, it becomes apparent that everyone involved, from the cops to the judge, are blatantly on the take from the Mexican cartel. Riley’s pleas for justice fall on deaf ears, and she’s remanded to a psychiatric ward. It doesn’t take her long to escape custody and disappear, returning five years later to enact vigilante justice against those responsible.
What follows is an hour and forty-five minute slog through the seedy and corrupt underbelly of Los Angeles as she destabilizes the cartel. It’s difficult to discuss Peppermint and not to mention other modern thrillers it derives influence from such as Taken, given director Pierre Morel’s involvement, as well as John Wick. Except for the fact that these films were sufficiently self-aware to deliver on unique aspects that banked on their strengths.
Given the success of Taken, I was expecting a similar level of quality from Morel. Smooth, stylized action scenes made memorable by the actor executing them. And while Garner certainly gives this physical role her all, what she’s given to work with is mundane material at best, cringe-worthy at its worst.
There is almost nothing memorable about the movie’s shootouts, all of which feel stale in the wake of far more superior thrillers. The sets are boring. The action felt technically antiquated. Nothing stands out in an era of cinema where audiences are inundated with uniquely creative gun-fu-esque action.
And then there’s the plot and its characters, all of which are distractingly heavy-handed. There’s a scene where Riley has to pick gang members out of a lineup, and conveniently, all of the men she recognizes are covered in face and neck tattoos. The Mexican cartel boss prays to the grim reaper. You get the idea. The level of fear-mongering tied to its antagonists is so laughably over the top that it reaches cartoonish proportions.
Peppermint’s portrayal of corruption is also done to a laughable degree. In one scene, a senior detective warns his partner that the last cop who investigated the cartel found a bullet-riddled police badge in his locker. Then he holds up the badge with bullet holes in it. To say Peppermint is tactless in how it chooses to handle just about anything would be an understatement. A majority of the dialogue is cliched cop talk to an eye rolling degree. The one somewhat unique aspect of the plot, how social media reacts to vigilante justice, is barely explored and would have made the story remotely compelling. Maybe. Throw in a plot twist that the audience can see coming from a mile away, and Peppermint’s story manages to get in the way of the film’s action, which can’t even manage to elicit any intensity or satisfaction.
Peppermint feels like a movie made shortly after Taken, only to be shelved for several years in an attempt to avoid competing with it, and now John Wick’s, success. This is reinforced by an implausible ending which serves only to set up a sequel no one wants. Despite Garner rising to the physicality of her role, her potential is squandered by Morel’s inadequacy when it comes to giving her anything remotely interesting to do. The only silver lining is that, hopefully, a more competent director will see this potential in Garner and give her a more refined action-oriented role in the future.
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