Nothing can save this screenplay
Jennifer Garner didn’t need Peppermint in order to secure her action heroine bona fides.
Having gotten her start as the lead of Alias (a show I’ve never really seen but which is, by all accounts, pretty kick ass), then being the face of Marvel character Elektra on the big screen across two different films… Garner is perhaps best known as a tough, capable woman on screen. Sure, she’s also made a name for herself as a romantic comedy lead (13 Going On 30) and as a dramatic actor (Juno), but those action hero roots have never been too far below the surface.
And she gives it her all to play Riley North in Peppermint.
With the same sinewy muscles and pulsing veins demanded of our modern male action heroes, Garner is flat out shredded and ready to do some damage in this film. She also gets to dabble in her other wheelhouse as loving mother and wife before a bunch of gangsters mow down her husband and daughter and she re-emerges five years later as a vengeance-fueled angel of death.
But no matter how hard Garner was willing to go, there’s not really any saving Peppermint. The script is simply too far gone. And that’s a shame.
It’s a shame because when Peppermint is doing what it does best, which is taking a page out of John Wick’s book and letting Riley North lay waste to hordes of villains by murking them in the face at close range with heavy weaponry, the movie springs to life and has fun with itself. If all you want to see is Jennifer Garner turning some bad guys into viscera, you can probably stop reading and go check out Peppermint. Because you’re going to get that. Hell, if I weren’t writing this myself, that would be me… I would stop reading and just go check this movie out. I don’t need much more than that.
It’s just that there’s so much movie to wade through to get to the killer action sequences. And even then they aren’t directed with much inspiration by Pierre Morel (Taken). They just harken back to the more glorious experiences they are referencing, such as your John Wicks or your Indonesian flavors of action carnage. That said, Morel most likely isn’t the source of the film’s great problems. He’s capable enough.
No, Peppermint has a script problem. Writer Chad St. John brought us London Has Fallen (which I more or less loathe myself for enjoying) and the upcoming Keanu Reeves sci-fi film Replicas (which does not bode well for Replicas, but I’ll withhold pre-judgment). His take on vigilante justice as meted out by Jennifer Garner just doesn’t sit right. For one thing, we’ve all seen this a million times before, and this time around is no different. We spend a whole bunch of time with Riley and family pre-massacre. This is probably supposed to allow us to root for her, see her humanity, etc. But it feels like wasted time as we all know where it’s leading. Then, bizarrely, the movie skips the entire 5 years of Riley’s transformation from soccer mom to killing machine. So we get a whole lot of mom, and a whole lot of ripped shoulder muscles, but the two pieces feel like they don’t fit together. There’s a lot of drama around corrupt cops and judges, and there’s a very one-dimensional Latin gang all at the root of the tragedy that befalls Riley. It feels righteous here in 2018 to see Riley offing corrupt cops and judges… but the optics do feel unfortunate in that most of the people she is blowing away are foot soldiers for a Latino cartel offshoot in L.A. Then there’s the whole superhero angle where Riley uses Skid Row as her batcave of sorts, and where all the homeless people there paint murals of her and regard her as some kind of angel. Everything regarding the homeless population feels cartoonish. As though all Skid Row really needs to clean up its act is a pissed off mom with guns. I’m not sure how that resolves… really ANY of the issues facing those on skid row? Then a couple of “street scamps” become crucial to the final showdown, and a whole live streaming YouTube celebrity culture type deal rises up around Riley and you start rolling your eyes into the back of your skull. Peppermint does absolutely nothing new, and then when it does add in internet chatter around Riley and her vigilantism, it’s about the most annoying way to possibly try to modernize societal discourse around vigilantism.
There are gems and moments to find and enjoy in Peppermint. Jennifer Garner truly goes to herculean efforts to carry this thing on her shoulders. But the inevitability and cheese that’s slathered all over the screenplay lets Garner down at every turn. And the gleeful R-rating which alludes to John Wick similarly falls victim to a paint-by-numbers storyline that keeps viewers at a distance. Just looking over 2018’s action films there are almost half a dozen that prominently feature kick ass women and far exceed Peppermint in quality, so go check out Manhunt or The Night Comes For Us or Hotel Artemis or Molly or Buybust before you bother with Peppermint.
I am willing to say that at times the movie looks great. There’s some solid lighting that Morel is working with, he does an adequate job framing the action so we know it’s Jennifer Garner doing a lot of it, and there’s some smart choices like slow motion in the right places, etc. It’s not a horrendous movie. Just a misguided one with a script that doomed it from the start. So I’ve seen much worse-looking movies on Blu-ray, and that is saying something. Morel has a commentary track on this disc on which he sounds capable and assured even if this movie is no Taken. There’s also a short featurette, and that’s all you’re getting with this release. Peppermint feels like a rental at best for those too curious about the Jennifer Garner as Jane Wick formula to stay away (those just like me). I don’t see many needing to own this title, however, and I myself am unlikely to ever revisit.
And I’m Out.
Peppermint is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from STX Films and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment