Whilst there’s no denying that Peppermint is trash, it’s at least enjoyably so. So guilty is the pleasure of watching Jennifer Garner take out dozens of disposable villainous archetypes twice her size that you can almost forgive the movie for being so lazy. Almost.
I’m usually fine with minimal exposition if it means I don’t have every obvious plot point thrown in my direction because whichever screenwriter assumed I was smart enough to follow the beats they laid out. With Peppermint however, writer Chad St. John (London has Fallen) refuses to dive deeper into the story beyond what is physically presented on screen, and though that doesn’t necessarily keep us at a distance from our central heroine – Garner’s initially happy-wife-turned-vigilante Riley North – it certainly doesn’t help in us trying to understand aspects of her mentality.
We know she works at a bank, but in what position is never specified (we assume a teller?). And prior to that minor nugget of non-information we see her and young daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming) trying to evade the overbearing helicopter parent that is Peg (Pell James) at a Girl Scout location, which seems more designed as a story point to set-up Peg as a heartless suburban housewife rather than give any background details on Carly and Riley’s relationship with their respective fellow classmates and parents. Then there’s the main force behind Riley’s shift from loving housewife to a John Wick-esque killer, which comes in the form of witnessing both her daughter and husband (Jeff Hephner) brutally gunned down in front of her own eyes; the attack itself is spurred on by the briefest mention that Riley’s husband was considering robbing a drug kingpin, an act he ultimately didn’t go through with.
It’s indicated that Riley and her husband are financially struggling, but any link to how and why he would even be in the same circle as a drug lord is bypassed, with Peppermint‘s main objective being evoking a supportive reaction from (hopefully) receptive audiences basking in the glow of Garner returning to the action field and taking names left, right, and centre. On that side of things Peppermint (named due to this being the favourite ice-cream flavour of Riley’s slain daughter) is enjoyable in that irresponsible kind of way. Garner is wholly believable as both a loving, supportive mother and a gun-toting killer, but (again) the film fails to truly delve into the specifics of her transformation, with a simple mention of five years of laying low and briefly popping up on the radar due to her underground MMA appearances looking to suffice.
Perhaps I’m expecting too much of a film of this ilk, but a few insights and extended character development could’ve assisted Peppermint drastically so that it could be more than just the trashy, shallow avenging actioner it plays out as. Allegedly greenlit off the back of the #MeToo movement, Peppermint is, in some aspects, a female empowerment tale, but it also needs to straddle that line carefully so that it showcases women taking back control (and the film’s look into the corruption of the judicial system provides some of its more interesting aspects) more so than being a man-hating production.
Regardless of all its flaws though, there’s no denying there’s a glee in watching Garner exceed in the genre she’s always seemed so comfortable in. The enticing notion that we could witness Garner re-visit the hand-to-hand combative skills she displayed so effortlessly in Alias for all those years is sadly skipped in favour of heavy gun-play, but you could certainly do a lot worse than bask in Garner’s gratuitous glow. A title more suited for throw-away viewing on Netflix rather than seeking it out specifically on the big screen, Peppermint is material far beneath its lead’s talents but she elevates it all the same so that you don’t feel too guilty about enjoying something so hollow.