By Jack Dignan
In Cinemas December 13th
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn
Think of literally any action movie ever made. Think hard. Do you have one? Good. Now, think of literally any revenge film ever made. Do you have that too? Great. Take all of the tropes, clichés and plot elements present in each of these films, remove any inkling of style or substance, take away all of the fun, and you have PEPPERMINT, the new Jennifer Garner-led action thriller that, throughout its agonising 101 minute runtime, never fails to provide satisfying action or thrills.
*sigh* oh boy, here we go. Where to begin with PEPPERMINT? It’s not necessarily that its synopsis is completely incompetent, it’s more the fact that there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. We follow the story of Riley North (Jennifer Garner), a devoted mother and wife who, through a tragic set of circumstances, ends up witnessing the death of her entire family. Cut forward five years and Riley returns from the shadows a new woman; one who’s hell-bent on brutally murdering everyone involved in her daughter and husband’s untimely deaths.
While structurally competent solely thanks to its formulaic narrative and cliché-ridden plot, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s interesting in the slightest. Screenwriter Chad St. John (LONDON HAS FALLEN) doesn’t attempt to break the mold with his mindless attempt at storytelling, nor does he attempt to liven it up with any sort of humour or ridiculousness. Playing this whole film straight is its biggest downfall. One scene in the third act sees Riley confronting an insufferable mum from Girl Scouts, Peg (Pell James), and it’s the only scene in the film that has an ounce of identity. Riley actually gets the chance to display some character traits outside of being a numbingly boring vigilante who’s capable of surviving several squib-less bullet wounds to the face.
Had the rest of the film been more in line with this one scene, I could honestly see myself starting to enjoy it. A dialogue punch up that would remove such lines as “are you thinking what I’m thinking,” “did you really think you could get away with this,” and my personal favourite one of a detective saying “you look like shit” to another detective walking in the room. If they were to replace these lines with a more tongue in cheek, self-parodying style it would’ve worked wonders. As it stands, you could Google and list of generic lines of dialogue and you’ll pretty much have the entirety of PEPPERMINT’s screenplay, if they even thought to use one.
After a prologue that goes on a little longer than it should, PEPPERMINT gets straight into the action. A welcomed choice, for sure, but it does leave the audience puzzled as to when Riley suddenly transformed into a murderous psychopath. We see glimmers of her training and her minor criminal offences over the years, all building towards a return to the spotlight and takedown of the Mexican drug cartel, but it’s her sudden change of opinion on violence that proves puzzling. She goes from talking her child out of bullying, claiming that if you retaliate violence you’re just as bad as them, to straight up murdering everyone in sight. In the process, the purpose of the film is lost in time, like tears in the rain.
But is the action fun? Nope. Jennifer Garner remains one of the most kickass actors in Hollywood, returning back to her action roots after starring in countless dramas and family films (not that that’s a bad thing at all!), but given that she has nothing to work with, it proves to be a less than satisfying genre reunion. TAKEN director Pierre Morel utilises a puzzlingly surreal approach that quick cuts through some of the bigger moments while digitally shaking and blurring shots that weren’t originally shaking or blurred. Think the characters introductions in SUICIDE SQUAD, which is ironic given that PEPPERMINT stars John Gallagher Jr., aka the literal twin of SUICIDE SQUAD star Ike Barinholtz.
Jennifer Garner gives it her all, but she can’t save this unsettlingly racist, straight faced action thriller from plummeting face first into the ground and cracking every one of its bones in the process. However, the biggest sin this film faces is not releasing the film in Movember. Almost every male character sports lustrous facial hair, and I was waiting for the unexpected reveal that this whole film was one extended Movember promotion, which honestly would’ve made me appreciate it just that little bit more.
1 1/2 Stars
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