California law says that a husband and wife must split all marital property evenly in the event of a divorce. Ben Affleck was given the role of Batman in the DCEU in August 2013. Knowing all this, I can only assume Peppermint represents Jennifer Garner’s share of the couple’s right to be in a bad Batman movie. Peppermint tells the story of a someone who experiences a tragedy, disappears to turn their body into a weapon and returns home to bring justice to their city. A city that has given itself over to corruption.
Peppermint is obvious and generic in its best moments. It’s hateful and ugly in its worst. This is a shame because in the 2000’s both Garner and director Pierre Morel were exciting new faces in the action genre. Morel’s Taken and Garner’s Alias are still praised to this day. Unfortunately, their first project together is an uninspired mess.
Peppermint is the story of Riley North (Garner), your run of the mill housewife who is doing everything she can to stay middle class. She has a loving husband (Jeff Hephner) and a precocious daughter (Cailey Fleming). One night when the family is out at the holiday carnival, they are attacked by a street gang and Riley suffers the worst kind of tragedy. This moment should be an emotional gut punch. However the reasons for this attack are so convoluted and contrived, you feel nothing.
Riley’s personal hell only gets worse when she learns how unjust the legal system around her has become. The two detective investigating this case (John Ortiz & John Gallagher Jr.) make it clear that no one in town goes against the local kingpin, Diego Garcia, and comes out alive. After Riley is able to positively identify her family’s attackers, her eyes open to the corruption of the city around her. The case against the gang members is dismissed due to insufficient evidence. These scenes stretch credulity to an absurd degree. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the movie were having more fun. Most great action movies, and movies in general, don’t have air tight logic. What they do have, though, is characters and situations that are enticing to an audience. Peppermint does not.
Riley has an emotional outburst in the courtroom and the court involuntary commits her (don’t ask). However, she escapes from the ambulance and runs off into the night to begin her training. She will return to skid row five years later to take vigilante justice on Diego Garcia. And she’ll do it without a cape or cowl.
Garner seems to be doing her best to go back to her Alias roots, but it never quite clicks. She certainly looks the part in Peppermint. However, she never conveys any sort of real humanity. This is because the film never asks her to. She is meant to be strong and silent. For a woman fueled by revenge, she rarely shows any emotional investment in her story. This movie also does something I actually really dislike in female led action hero movies: it takes its lead and strips of her any sort of femininity until it’s irrelevant whether she is a man or a woman.
The movie’s problems come from its story rather than its actors. Frankly, I think the cast is incredibly solid and everyone is doing the best they can with their material. John Ortiz probably does the most to elevate his character. He is always great to watch and really should have a bigger career. John Gallagher Jr. has the year’s second best cinematic mustache (after Henry Cavill of course) and it’s a shame this it’s being wasted in this movie. Gallagher has been great in some recent films, but seems to sleepwalking through this performance. I think that speaks to the script.
The main issue plaguing Peppermint is that everyone is one-note and derivative. Every character’s dialogue is stilted. Every twist and plot point is something that you can see coming. We know one of the detectives is not doing well because they pour whiskey in their coffee at work. We know Riley is a bad ass because she pours vodka on her wounds after a knife fight. It all borders on parody.
Pierre Morel’s direction is also a disappointment. The actions scenes are fine and competent but don’t elicit the excitement you feel when watching Taken. The film overall has a very disjointed feel and it seems that Morel hasn’t changed his style much from 2009. The problem with that is that the action genre has changed so much in that time. It’s hard to watch a shootout in in Peppermint that’s so over-edited to hide all the stunt work a mere six weeks after you watch Tom Cruise personally jump out of an aircraft with an IMAX cameraman.
Peppermint was never going to on any AFI list. It could have been a fun, “turn-your-brain-off” post summer action movie, though, the palate cleanser before the fall brings the masses Oscar movies and prestige pictures. What we got instead is a punishing movie that never allows the audience or its characters to smile. I hope this isn’t Jennifer Garner’s final foray into action. I like her as an action star and I want to see her recapture past Alias glory as much as anyone else. Maybe next time she should avoid the writer of London Has Fallen.