Hell hath no fury

Jennifer Garner aims her gun resolutely, even as she realizes that this whole time, the real enemy was her booking agent.

Jennifer Garner aims her gun resolutely, even as she realizes that this whole time, the real enemy was her booking agent.

Rated 1.0

The Jennifer Garner revenge flick Peppermint begins with a sick joke: director Pierre Morel’s overhead camera moseys down one night, zeroing in on a car in an empty parking lot. The car is rocking, with muffled grunts and gasps coming from inside. Is some couple having an extremely energetic round of sex? No, they’re fighting, viciously, slashing with knives. The woman (Garner) shoves a gun under the man’s chin and blows his brains all over the driver-side window. Then the scene dissolves to “Five years before…”

Where to begin with this piece of junk? It’s lousy and it’s lazy, and it’s hard to say which is worse. The script is by Chad St. John, who has seen (and stolen from) more movies than he’s written. His only other credits are a 10-minute Punisher short (2012) and 2016’s almost-as-awful London Has Fallen. That one at least had a strong cast for us to sympathize with (and be embarrassed for). Peppermint just has Jennifer Garner, and the movie’s only suspense comes from wondering why she signed on to stuff this turkey rather than leaving it to some hungry nobody desperate to be in a hit.

Garner plays Riley North, whose husband and daughter were murdered five years ago by a gang of Hispanic drug-thugs straight out of one of Donald Trump’s ugliest speeches. The killers are freed by a corrupt judge and district attorney, and when Riley protests, the judge has his bailiff hit her with a taser. (Another Trumpian touch, perhaps?)

That 2012 Punisher short is the key. Peppermint is Marvel Comics’ Punisher (who becomes a murderous vigilante when his wife and kids are killed by gangsters) with a gender swap and a more feminine title. That title, by the way, is one of the movie’s many stupidities, evidently chosen because it’s Riley’s daughter’s almost-last word before the baddies blow her and her ice cream cone away. To pad things out to 102 minutes, St. John hauls in tropes and clichés from the full range of revenge movies, both male and female divisions: Death Wish, Taken (which Morel also directed), John Wick, Kidnap, Breaking In—some of which were pretty bad but all of which were better than this.

I won’t dwell on Peppermint’s disgusting racism—except to mention that it’s there and it’s disgusting. St. John even has these tattooed villains running their drugs out of a piñata factory. A piñata factory, for God’s sake. Were the tortilla bakeries and taquerias not photogenic enough?

Let’s get to Peppermint’s laziness. The movie passes in a few seconds over the five years Riley spends transitioning from sugar-and-spice soccer mom to grim, gun-toting martial artist and avenging dark angel. That’s the real story here—not all the bloodshed—and Garner could have played it. But she would need a writer and director with intelligence and imagination, not a couple of shameless rip-off hacks who don’t know the real story when it’s staring them in the face.

They couldn’t even come up with a decent title.