If I were to describe the plot of something by saying, “It’s about a person whose family is murdered who then becomes obsessed with getting revenge,” you would be forgiven for rolling your eyes. That sentence more or less describes Death Wish, the 2018 Death Wish remake, almost every iteration of Batman, The Punisher, Deadpool 2, John Wick (dogs count as family), Gladiator, and, if you replace “murdered” with “kidnapped,” Taken — which happens to be directed by Pierre Morel, the man who’s also behind the Jennifer Garner disaster Peppermint.
All you really need to know about Peppermint can be gleaned from its title sequence, a hodgepodge of heavy-metal music, filters, and camera effects that would make more sense in a 2000s Simple Plan music video than they do here, in a film starring America’s sweetheart. Garner plays Riley North, a mother and bank teller who sees her husband and 10-year-old daughter gunned down in front of her as they’re making their way back from a carnival. (The husband had a friend who got on the wrong side of a local drug kingpin.) Although North identifies the suspects, the case is dismissed thanks to a corrupt judge, a corrupt prosecutor, and a corrupt D.A.
And so that very day, a woman who has up until that point only ever been a housewife and a low-level bank employee disappears off the grid, steals thousands of dollars from the bank at which she works without getting caught, and begins her life as an international badass vigilante who, five years later, returns to Los Angeles to punish those who ruined her life.
Amazing Michelle Obama arms notwithstanding, it’s very difficult to believe anyone can turn into Batman in a little longer than it takes to get an undergraduate degree. This woman is an expert in everything: breaking and entering, surveillance, guns, hand-to-hand combat, surgery, explosives. At least Liam Neeson already had a “particular set of skills” to begin with.
Whatever moments of fun there are watching Garner infallibly tear through the ranks of the drug gang are canceled out by the movie’s lack of creativity and imagination. Case in point: North’s daughter was gleefully eating an ice cream cone (three guesses which flavor) and it was her birthday (!) on the day she was murdered. North becomes a folk hero on social media for her anticorruption crusade, and is so revered by the skid row neighborhood she’s turned into her base of operations that someone has painted a giant mural depicting her as a guardian angel.
As the story slogs on and it becomes obvious that this film has resigned itself to the cliched mediocrity one might have predicted from looking at its poster, even the action sequences fail to merit attention. In a world where John Wick and Atomic Blonde exist, ho-hum shootouts in drug dens feel like a waste of time. There are stunts, but no choreography; there’s violence, but no impact. Even a random Method Man appearance three-fourths of the way through the film doesn’t make it fun. Only Garner’s inimitable charm and a 100-minute runtime make this film at all watchable. There’s a more compelling Jennifer Garner tragedy in the expression on her face in that now-viral photo of her handing ex-husband Ben Affleck a bag of Jack in the Box.
And so, even with Garner’s game efforts and those of actor John Gallagher Jr. as the police detective on her trail, none of the characters emerge as anything more than lazy tropes: the tough-as-nails woman who grits her teeth and uses vodka to clean her wounds, the policeman we know has seen a rough few years thanks to his undone collar and the alcohol he pours into his morning coffee.
All this criticism is without mentioning the problematic and racially insensitive nature of a movie about a white lady machine-gunning down a group of scary, tattooed Mexican drug dealers, even in the utterly dissociated world in which this ludicrous plot exists. But the rest of the movie is so slapdash that wokeness unfortunately becomes about the 15th most important thing that needs correction here.
All of us, but especially Jennifer Garner, deserve better. D+