Peppermint, Jennifer Garner’s vigilante flick about a mother seeking justice after the brutal murder of her family, is as frustrating as it is disappointing. When you’re not shaking your head at plot inconsistencies, poorly drawn characters and lamentable dialogue, you’ll no doubt feel let down that such a brilliant action actress made her return to the genre in such a lemon.
The film starts with a jolting sequence that seems to communicate an ultra-gritty and harsh story is to follow. We open with a shot of the Los Angeles skyline just before dawn, as the camera slowly zooms in on a lone parked car. As we get closer, it becomes obvious that car's shaking, and just as we’re questioning whether what’s going on inside is romantic or not, we smash cut to Jennifer Garner in a brutal fight with an unknown assailant. She eventually gets the upper hand, and before she ends his life, she says, “You don’t remember me do you?” Spoiler alert: he doesn’t, and she kills him. Then she gets out of the car and methodically puts him in the trunk. It’s a scene that’s utterly devoid of sentimentality and invests us in Riley North and her terrifying mission.
Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there.
Almost immediately after the intro, we flash back to North’s convoluted, yet unimaginative vigilante origin story. Its bones are basic – North witnesses her family being shot in a drive-by and vows revenge when the system fails her. But the movie feels the need to deify North in our eyes presumably in an effort justify her later actions, so her identity as a suburban mom driven to vigilante justice is embellished with a cliched, melodramatic backstory. Her family is a group of angelic, blue collar underdogs who’d be at home in a Hallmark movie. After they’re killed (in a seriously tone deaf sequence that stops short of showing a seven-year-old getting shot), she can identify the shooters, but a corrupt system allows them to get off. Justice is thwarted by a nefarious tag team of a predatory defense attorney and a morally bankrupt judge, and North winds up losing it in an court room after the suspects aren’t even indicted.
You’d have to be an android not to feel something for North after sitting through such a Job-worthy tale of woe, but that’s due to Garner’s performance rather than a backstory that feels like a mish-mash of the broadest comic book tropes. In fact, Garner is the only real reason to see this movie, and the only thing about it that’s even remotely satisfying.