By Laurie Coker
Jennifer Garner and her relationship with Ben Affleck has been tabloid fodder for a long while now. Even before the vultures of heartbreak news took hold, Garner’s made a name for herself. As the star of the long-running television hit, Alias, and more recently as the face of Capital One credit cards, Garner’s beauty has made her recognizable and hot. Regardless, in her latest film, Peppermint, Garner committed as ever, cannot distract from the gratuitous blood-baths, overt racial stereotypes, and limp storyline. Director Pierre Morel and screenwriter Chad St. John opt for violence over substance.
Garner plays, Riley North, a young mother whose loving husband and ten-year-old daughter are gunned down by soulless gang members, led by a drug-dealing sociopath, Diego Garcia, played hyper-stereotypically by Juan Pablo Raba. Riley, whose family struggles to make ends meet, watches in horror as her daughter, Carly (Cailey Fleming) and husband, Chris (Jeff Hephner) are senselessly slain in a spray of gunfire. When the men she identifies are set free by a corrupt judge and a broken system, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She disappears for five years, apparently attending international badass training, then returns to avenge her loved ones.
Garner, who is 46, ten years older than the character she plays, put notable effort into the role – first the loving, doting wife and mom, then the weepy victim, followed by wholly distraught and crazy and then pissed off as hell and even more crazed. Riley’s armed, dangerous and has nothing to lose. She begins methodically killing off gangsters, assumedly members of Garcia’s ring and does so with flourish and firepower. Garner doesn’t seem to mind getting messed up for the movie, and from the first scene to the last, she wears Riley’s bruises and wounds beautifully. She looks good and necessarily determined. She alone carries the film. John Gallagher Jr. (Detective Stan Carmichael) and John Ortiz (Detective Moises Beltran), as partners assigned to the Riley North case from the start, cannot plug the holes in St. John’s story. Implausibilities piled on top of inconsistencies and continuity errors abound – piling up like bodies in the path of a mother with a mission.
The R-rated Peppermint feels longer than the just under one and three-quarter hour runtime in part because of the tedium in watching henchmen blown apart – blood and brains flying. There are a few hand-to-hand, knifing sequences and some big explosions, but the story could fit on half of a postage stamp. One genuinely cringe-worthy scene involves Riley stapling together a deep, oozing knife wound on her thigh, after which she duct tapes it and goes on for the rest of the movie, with nary a limp, wreaking havoc and taking punches. Watching Garner is fun, but the film falters in every possible way. It earns a D in the grade book. There is an art to this kind of revenge thriller and Morel and St. John simply do not have the brushes nor do they know the strokes.