By all accounts, Jennifer Garner is a pretty great mom. A cursory glance at Google reveals headlines like “13 Times Jennifer Garner Proved She’s the Most Relatable Mom in Hollywood” and a joke music video about motherhood that premiered on a Mother’s Day episode of Ellen. She has three kids, which in and of itself is a massive undertaking; that she manages to balance motherhood with her acting career, especially in light of ex-husband Ben Affleck’s recent battle with sobriety, is downright inspirational. Aside from her celebrity status, she is like the textbook definition of a good mom (not to suggest that a hypothetical textbook is the sole authority on what makes a good mom).
Which only makes the trajectory of her career all the more curious. Whether it’s due to a conscious effort on her part or Hollywood’s inherent sexism, since her breakthrough role as Sydney Bristow in the action series Alias and the unfortunate existence of Daredevil and Elektra, she has for the most part been relegated to playing the mom: Juno; The Odd Life of Timothy Green; Men, Women, and Children; Miracles From Heaven; and Love, Simon to name a few examples.
That trend continues in earnest with Peppermint, but unlike those other films, she’s finally in a position to once again flex what made her famous: kicking ass and taking names. And let me tell you, she does just that—it’s just a shame the rest of the film is so lifeless.
Garner plays Riley North, a loving mother whose daughter and husband are gunned down by cartel members while the family is out celebrating the daughter’s birthday. The shooters aim for Riley too, but she survives, and after a stay in the hospital, she correctly identifies the three perpetrators. Corruption is rampant, though, and all three killers walk free. What ensues is a tale of revenge as bog-standard as you can think of, as Riley goes off the grid and emerges five years later to punish everyone she holds responsible for the death of her family.
How does one go from middle class mom to efficient killing machine, you might ask? Don’t expect an answer from Peppermint, as it’s more focused on the “what” than the “how”. A short block of exposition does explain some of the logistics, but overall it’s handled in an incredibly lazy manner. Director Pierre Morel goes from A directly to Z, skipping over every other letter in Riley’s arc of transformation. When we catch up with her, somehow she has managed to entrench herself in Los Angeles’ Skid Row community, cleaning up crime and becoming a sort of guardian angel for the area’s numerous homeless denizens. As an L.A. native, I have to say it feels kind of gross to see the city’s homeless crisis used simply as window dressing. Obviously it’s not the first time this has been done in a movie, but there’s no reason it’s used here except to bolster Riley’s flimsy claim to heroine status.
The film moves quickly from set piece to set piece, and though I wouldn’t call the action particularly inspired, if there is anything the film does well it’s the shootouts. One sequence involving a piñata shop is the standout; if you want to see Garner shotgun a bunch of generic cartel personnel, this is the scene for you. But it also underscores another of the film’s many faults—there is no personality given to any of the villains. Everyone, including the head honcho Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), is the stereotypical Latino gang member you’ve seen countless times before. While I don’t think the film is intentionally racist, considering the rhetoric spewed by the orange man in the oval office and his lackeys, it feels misplaced. Knowing him, he’d probably think this film was a documentary.
The cast is decent enough. Garner shows she hasn’t lost a step in this realm of filmmaking, and the supporting characters, as standard as they are, don’t hurt the film. I especially took pleasure in John Gallagher Jr.’s squinty Detective Carmichael, but not for any specific praiseworthy characteristic; there’s a scene where it seems like it dawns on him what movie he’s in, and his facial expression reads, “What the fuck am I doing here?” It got a laugh out of me.
If this sounds like a particularly negative review, it’s because Peppermint is a particularly bad film. However, I’d be remiss to say that I didn’t outright hate it. I don’t know if it’s because I went in expecting worse, but at the very least something kept me engaged throughout. Maybe it’s that it hits every beat you expect it to hit, and there’s some comfort in that. I’m not sure, I can’t quite explain it. I guess sometimes you just need to watch something bad.