Despite a committed performance by Garner, Peppermint is an extremely forgettable and bland action movie that leaves no impression with the viewer.
Marking Jennifer Garner's return to the action genre, Peppermint is the latest film from Taken director Pierre Morel. Ever since that Liam Neeson vehicle broke out nearly a decade ago, there has been a new rise for the vigilante sub-genre, with a number of entries that follow the same basic formula, but attempt to mix things up by rotating in a different star for the lead role. This time, it's Garner's turn to extract revenge on criminals, but unfortunately the setup has become tired by now. Despite a committed performance by Garner, Peppermint is an extremely forgettable and bland action movie that leaves no impression with the viewer.
After their daughter's birthday party doesn't go as planned, Riley North (Garner) and her husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) decide to lift young Carly's (Cailey Fleming) spirits with a spontaneous trip to the Christmas Fair to have fun and ice cream. Before leaving, Chris calls his friend Mickey (Chris Johnson) and pulls out of a proposed robbery job that would see him receive a handsome payday, not wanting to risk anything for his family.
Unfortunately, word of Mickey's plan spreads through town quickly, and the drug kingpin Mickey wanted to steal from, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Rabla), makes his move first. Henchmen of Garcia's follow the Norths to the fair, gunning down Chris and Carly in front of Riley. Due to corruption in the system, the killers are allowed to walk free, while Riley is to be brought to a psychological care ward. Escaping, Riley falls off the grid for five years, returning when she's ready to bring the murderers to justice on her terms.
Peppermint is a mess from a structural perspective, playing almost like an extended third act after a very generic opening that hits the usual beats (touching family moments, etc.) before the inciting incident. Curiously, the script by Chad St. John skims over the most interesting aspects of the narrative (namely, the kindhearted Riley's transformation into ruthless killer) in favor of by-the-book shoot-'em-ups where Riley hunts down the members of Garcia's crew. This negatively impacts the film's pacing, making Peppermint feel longer than its sub two-hour runtime. It certainly feels like there's a stretch of movie missing, and while it's appreciated that Morel wastes little time in getting to the action, he would have benefitted from fleshing out Riley's journey. The end result lacks the catharsis he's aiming for, as Peppermint crawls towards its inevitable conclusion.
Garner does her best to make up for the shortcomings of the screenplay, dutifully handling all the required set pieces and convincingly portraying a broken woman who has nothing to lose. Peppermint toys with the idea of Riley being mentally unstable, which does add a much-needed layer of unpredictability to Garner's turn. However, the film never digs beneath the surface of that, so audiences simply sit back and watch Garner mow through enemies with precision, instead of being left on the edge of their seats, wondering what her next move will be. Due to the very basic character motivation, it's easy enough to get behind Riley and root for her, but as presented on the page, she's a very thin protagonist.
That being said, Garner's co-stars fare even worse, given very little material to work with. The villains are as by-the-numbers as they come, with most amounting to little more than faceless cartel and gang members looking to track Riley down before she causes more problems for their operation. Rabla's Garcia makes for a threatening enough presence, but the writing here is very standard and all of his henchmen are interchangeable. Detectives Stan Carmichael (John Gallagher, Jr.) and Moises Beltran (Ray Ortiz) stand out a little more, though that isn't to say their performances are exactly memorable. Their roles in the narrative are quite rote, following a trajectory savvy viewers will be able to spot a mile away. Even Riley's family (the emotional core of the film) is given limited shading before moving on. Nobody in the supporting cast is bad, but it's all common procedure for the genre.
Given Morel's previous filmography, it isn't surprising that Peppermint's strongest assets are the action scenes. Granted, they are "John Wick lite" in terms of their execution and emotional investment in the characters, but they're still well-crafted enough to provide some mindless thrills. Morel embraces the R rating and serves up the brutality, with Riley taking no prisoners in her quest for vengeance. There isn't a single set piece that stands above the rest as the sequence audiences will be talking about long after the credits have rolled; they're just perfectly serviceable within the framework of this particular movie.
In all likelihood, few were expecting Peppermint to be the next bona fide action classic, but the results are nevertheless disappointing. The combination of Garner and Morel's particular set of skills had the potential to deliver pulpy genre fun as we transition into the fall movie season; however, it wasn't meant to be in this case. Unless one is a die-hard fan of the principal players or revenge thrillers, there's little incentive for general audiences to check this one out in theaters.
Peppermint is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 102 minutes and is rated R for strong violence and language throughout.
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- Peppermint (2018) release date: Sep 07, 2018