"This isn't how your story ends, Riley."
"It is for me."
What you have right there is a sampling of Chris St. John's screenplay for Pierre Morel's new film, Peppermint, starring Jennifer Garner as the vengeful mother not to be trifled with. It is a small part of a terrible movie that feels like a giant prank being put on by Hollywood producers, an exercise in making a film so deplorable that people may actually feel so sorry for it, they will hand over their hard earned cash.
Ladies and gentlemen, please don't do that. I took this 110 minute scud missile of suck straight into the chest for everybody. Let's talk about it.
Garner is Riley North, a regular civilian and mega-mom. The kind of mother who works too much, yet finds time to sponsor her daughter's girl scout cookie sales while looking absolutely amazing. Riley's husband, Chris, owns a noble independently owned auto-body shop that isn't doing so well, so he has to call his lowlife friend about a dangerous job that could make them rich.
What it does is bring down the Mexican Cartel, Hollywood's favorite bad guys these days, on the North family, with Riley watching her loved ones gunned down in the streets. Does she let the police handle it? No, why do that when you can go off the grid, eat beans out of a can in a not-so-mysterious van, and become an expert in marksmanship and fighting.
Before long, Riley is taking it to the Cartel, which is about stable as a house of cards and may as well be run by overgrown children. The top guy walks around shouting nonsensical demands, sipping tequila, and punching a heavy bag while rocking the most standard of bad guy mustaches.
You bet the detectives (John Ortiz and John Gallagher, servicing roles like they would fill a gas tank up while half-asleep) are always two steps behind the avenging Riley, with some of them more dirty than others. As the public rallies behind the ruthless mother who shouldn't be messed with, the plot skips along from one cliched scene to the next, without a surprise in sight.
It's all a mess, really. There's nothing here that hasn't been explored before, at least in a halfway original format. We all know Riley can't be stopped and the Mexicans, who can handle sixteen neck tattoos but not one woman, will eventually go down. It's a play call that a hundred different movies has made before with a lot better results.
This is Morel's bread and butter: the solo avenger story. It's too bad the act has grown tired over the past ten years. The French filmmaker could open up a revenge-fueled Hollywood department store with his film resume. He gave us Liam Neeson's Taken back in 2009 and followed that up with Sean Penn's retread of Taken in The Gunman. Those two could carry a stinky script and make something out of it, because they are Oscar-caliber actors. Garner is not and tries very hard here to convince us, but the effort is way too visible. We know she went to gun school and took some fighting classes. She got a six-pack, rocked a "not messing around anymore" haircut, and filled the look of the part.
Look, I get why she took the role. It's a no-brainer for the 46-year-old actress. Producers aren't handing her roles like this every day, because the Alias days are clearly over. Jennifer Lopez must have said no or something. Garner simply tries so hard that it's like watching an actor try to give a performance through a thick padding of latex and makeup. The effort is there and if there was better dialogue being dished her way, there may have been a better outcome. In the end, she is a cinematic cardboard box of minimal expressions, Terminator toughness, and endless confidence that never translates. You can learn to fire a gun and know how to handle yourself in a fight in a short period of time, but you don't become Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor in five years.
How about another bad dialogue sample?
"Stan my man, you got to be careful, my man."
Everything else is simply bad. I am talking a warm six-pack of Natty Light beer and a burnt Tombstone frozen pizza on a hot day level of low-quality. For example, last week's Kin was pure trash, but at least James Franco's go for broke performance elevated a few of the scenes. There was something there. Here, standard action film fundamentals are abandoned for sequences so mundane and remote, the editor must have fallen asleep or stopped caring around day 5.
Maybe one more bad dialogue sample...
"It's not supposed to be easy. That's the difference between them and us."
This is the movie you watch and instantly forget about, like seeing something so ugly that you can't even talk to yourself about it, because it may give you a headache for days.
If this is what Morel has to offer, put down the camera and go make music videos or something. When he made Taken with Neeson, there was a flair and fresh appeal that picked up familiar-looking material. Peppermint, which is one of the worst titles ever, has nothing original or fresh to offer. Just recycled goods from older, better movies.
I went in hoping for a guilty pleasure action flick with a gorgeous actress.
I left with a prime candidate for worst film of 2018.