Director Pierre Morel is famous for propelling former character actors to a fresh start in the action genre, most notably Liam Neeson who really kick-started his career after being a one-man army in the “Taken” franchise . Now, in times of #MeToo, he tells an old story in new garments with Jennifer “Elektra” Garner as the one-woman army. Unfortunately, Morel’s new movie “Peppermint” is a highly predictable action thriller with more holes from the writing than from the bullets shot.
Riley North’s (Jennifer Garner) life isn’t perfect, but her family is: a loving husband and an adorable, peppermint-addicted little daughter Carly. The idyll ends when both get shot in a drive-by shooting conducted by the local drug cartel. Riley is able to identify the killers, but in court she realizes how powerful cartel boss Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba) is: Both the DA and the judge are in his pocket and the case doesn’t even go to trial. Five years later, exactly on her husband and Carly’s death anniversary (which is tragically also the daughter’s birthday) the three killers turn up dead, shortly followed by their defender, the corrupt DA, and judge. It doesn’t take long for the detectives Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.) and Beltran (John Ortiz) to connect the dots, and they start a “man”hunt for the female vigilante, who is no one else than an armed-to-the-teeth Riley.
To start with the positive aspects, Jennifer Garner does a great job in this physical role. She is strong, but she is not invincible. She plays the part of the one-woman army with passion, and, though her role is just as much of a cliché as the rest of the film, she fills it out with empathy and coolness. The other enjoyable part is the action: Shoot-outs are quick and brutal, and on the hunt for the gang members she takes no prisoners.
It could have been a pretty good movie, if writer Chad St. John and director Morel hadn’t so blatantly ignoring the movie’s biggest plot holes. An action thriller doesn’t have to have perfect storytelling. However, the movie simply states “five years later” and then assumes housewife and bank-teller Riley has turned into a phantom, using different identities, travelling all around the globe getting trained in weaponry, close-combat, and intelligence techniques while being wanted by the FBI. Once back in LA, she identifies key players in the cartel through simple observation and is even able to disrupt the drug shipments and money laundering schemes. If it were that easy, the police would have done it already.
That and other boring and predictable elements really ruin the film, like Riley’s hallucinations of her dead daughter; a “wake up mommy” hallucination to warn that the bad guys are coming. The summit of all ugliness is a complete unnecessary scene where our hero sees a young kid with an alcoholic father. With two “Fight Club” references in only one scene, she convinces the addict to turn into a perfect dad and sends him Christmas shopping for his kid. Well, if that’s the cure for alcoholism it’s time to retire AA.
Everything in this movie is unoriginal and has been done better in other films. For example, the bad guys are a crude mix of MS-13 and Mexican cartel, the filmmakers throw together different gangs in an effort to not be as xenophobic as previous Morel movies. The result is a version of a gang that could be taken directly from an episode of “NCIS: LA.” A movie like this doesn’t require hyper-realism, but the writing shouldn’t be as naïve either. The feverish editing, once a trademark of the late Tony Scott, also adds nothing to the generic production.
Yes, it is great to see an action thriller with a female lead, but similar to “Breaking In” earlier this year, it is not enough to take a well-known story and just change the gender. It would be nice to say that a movie with a female lead also stands out for an interesting story, believable characters and ambivalent antagonists, or at least some surprising elements in the story. Meanwhile, “A Vigilante,” a movie about a female fighting back that combines all these attributes, still has no distribution. The times are changing, but unfortunately that’s happening very slowly.
Overall Rating: 5/10
Directed by Pierre Morel
Written by Chad St. John
Produced by Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg, Richard S. Wright
With Jennifer Garner, John Ortiz, John Gallagher Jr., Juan Pablo Raba
Cinematography by David Lanzenberg
Music by Simon Franglen
102 min, R-Rated