Can you feel it? It's spreading like wildfire. I'm talking about the buzz for Jennifer Garner's latest. Unfortunately for the actress, it's Razzie Awards buzz.
That's right, the race for Worst Picture of the Year looks like a lock. Not every Hollywood production has what it takes to parlay a big-name director, big stars and a healthy budget into a 13 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It takes a movie as staggeringly stupid and repellent as Peppermint.
You might think: Pierre Morel — that's the guy who did Taken. What's wrong with pulling a switcheroo? Giving a female performer the chance to play a parent who's been wronged by a gang and gets even using a very particular set of skills? The answer, naturally, is not a thing.
What's wrong is virtually everything else about the film. The writing, for example. As scripted by Chad St. John (London Has Fallen — 25 percent!), the story is a steady drip of derivative plotting, dim-witted dialogue and blatant xenophobia. He might as well have scissored the screenplays for Death Wish, Taken and Sicario and then taped them back together at random.
Garner is saddled with the half-baked role of suburban mom Riley North. In an early scene, she and her young daughter are hassled outside a mall by a pushy scout leader named Peg who tells them they're not good enough to join. "Why didn't you punch her in the face?" the child inquires. "Because you can't go around punching people in the face," her mother replies. Wouldn't it have been great if the tot turned to the camera and said with a smile, "Spoiler alert!"
But no. Instead, she and her doting dad are machine-gunned to death in slow motion by heavily tattooed henchmen of the Garcia gang after buying an ice cream cone. Bet you can guess the flavor.
You can probably guess what happens for the next hour-plus, too. After a corrupt judge releases the three suspects Riley has ID'd, she vanishes for five years. That's apparently how long it takes to Bruce Wayne it around the world honing your body into a lethal weapon.
When the corpses of the three bangers are found hanging upside down from a Ferris wheel, the LAPD realizes Riley's back in town and out for justice. The audience also knows this because, when she confronts Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), the following exchange takes place:
GARCIA: "What do you want?"
RILEY: "I want justice."
That St. John's a regular Anton Chekhov. You know the drill: Riley breaks into the local AK-47s "R" Us and embarks on a one-woman murder spree, gunning down heavily tattooed henchmen, blowing up corrupt judges and becoming an overnight sensation on Twitter.
Yup. Peppermint is set in an alternate universe where vigilante moms are embraced as feminist heroes on social media. I kept waiting for one of the "You go girl" tweets shown on local TV to close with a TimesUp hashtag.
As a director, Morel is not burdened with a reputation for style or artistic ambition. Atomic Blonde this isn't. A cretinous, racist, nastily violent slog is what it is. Plus, a career nadir for Garner.
Peppermint has exactly one choice moment. Mid-rampage, a blood-soaked Riley surprises her old pal Peg with a visit, ties her to a chair and mumbles, "I'm going to burn your house down now with you in it." Peg wets herself. For a second, you're like, Huh? Then Riley adds, "Just kidding, don't squeal."
It's a fun moment. The other 101 are the problem.