PEPPERMINT. Due to the recent and ongoing action movie renaissance, there is in every new shoot 'em up the hopeful possibility of transcendence, or at least a couple of entertaining hours. But for every Atomic Blonde (2017) there must of course be a Peppermint and the pattern of hope despoiled continues.
I cite Atomic Blonde not as a perfect action movie but as a competently made, startlingly well fought one with a formidable female lead. To paraphrase a friend, why can't action movie casting be gender blind? Why not set out to make the same movie, with the same intensity, physicality and violence, be the star male, female or otherwise? Other than the gradually changing horror-cult prevalence of sexism in any industry, Hollywood among them, there is no reason. But as I understand it, Charlize Theron had to use most of her clout as a star and producer — and all of her strength as an actor — to shepherd Atomic Blonde to the screen. Absent that investment and advocacy, we get movies like this one: pallid pretenders to the genre that play with notions of equality while actually working against it. (Peppermint may be less a feminism soapbox issue than a disappointing movie one, but that'll sort itself out).
Riley North (Jennifer Garner) works a thankless job in a bank while her husband Chris' (Jeff Hephner) automotive repair shop struggles. When a friend asks Chris to drive for him on a poorly conceived robbery, he considers the offer but ultimately declines. Too late though, because the vicious drug kingpin targeted in this would-be heist has already caught wind of the plan and the names of the co-conspirators. And so he chops up Chris' friend with a machete and dispatches three hard cases to machine gun Chris at a funfair, daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming) along with him. This, of course, all before Riley's horrified eyes. She identifies the shooters in a police lineup but because the criminal justice system is completely corrupt, district attorney and presiding judge included, the killers walk. Riley reacts with justifiable rage, is tasered and then restrained, destined to be held indefinitely as a danger to herself and others. Fortunately, she is astoundingly and inexplicably capable, and so overpowers a police detective and EMTs, flees the scene and disappears for five years.
I was still willing to go along for the ride, despite some, shall we say, problematic depictions of the Latino villains in the piece. But as we dive into the real meat of the story, Riley is reintroduced as some sort of self-taught super-soldier, proficient in explosives, field medicine, hand-to-hand combat and seemingly any weapon. How or where she acquired this particular set of skills is never addressed beyond passing reference to a YouTube video of Riley getting summarily beaten in a fighting ring in Hong Kong. Anyway, she returns to Los Angeles to see justice served, which in this case entails killing everybody attached to the mid-level cartel lieutenant who killed her family. A couple of LAPD detectives (John Ortiz and John Gallagher Jr.), tipped off by the FBI, attempt to get ahead of her, but their investigation is hobbled by corruption in the ranks. It's all pretty boilerplate stuff — handled rather toothlessly by director Pierre Morel (Taken) — but for the fact that our protagonist is a grieving mother. Which is all well and good, except that the movie, in addition to its inherent stylistic and narrative weaknesses, feels watered down, softened, pandering, even. Even though it carries an R rating (for violence but mostly for language), it lacks the intensity it would need to be memorable. Garner does a perfectly fine job carrying the thing but Peppermint strikes some sour chords. Her character feels inauthentic, inadequately developed, a sketch of a female lead defined by rage and little else. And, as I mentioned above and will likely be more fully discussed elsewhere, the monolithic Evil of the bad guys as defined by race is troubling, to say the least. I'd like to see something like this but more, and better. R. 102m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
JULIET, NAKED. Annie (Rose Byrne) lives quietly in a little English seaside town, managing the local history museum. Her long-term boyfriend Duncan (Chris O'Dowd) teaches popular culture classes at a small college and is unhealthily obsessed with a long dormant '90s recording artist named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke). As their relationship stagnates, Annie's reactionary review of a Tucker Crowe demo, posted to Duncan's fan-site, attracts the attention of the singer himself, living as a near-recluse in his ex-wife's detached garage. Annie and Tucker begin a correspondence and find immediate common ground. As Annie and Duncan's relationship hits a wall, Tucker (who's got kids all over the place with a number of different ladies) plans a trip to England for the birth of his first grandchild.
Based on the book by Nick Hornby and directed by Jesse Peretz (Our Idiot Brother), Juliet, Naked is as soothing and warm as one would expect, buoyed of course by the perfect comic timing of its stars. R. 105M. MINOR.
— John J. Bennett
See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
MANDY. A murderous cult in the woods, a loose tiger and a chainsaw fight — is Nicholas Cage OK? NR. 121M. MINOR
THE PREDATOR. The iconic alien hunter returns (with pets!) to maybe disappoint me like Alien vs. Predator. I'm still pretty hurt, man. With Sterling K. Brown and Olivia Munn. R. 107M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997). You might be radical but you'll never be woodland warrior chick riding a giant wolf in a Hayao Miyazaki movie radical. PG13. 134M. MINOR.
SEARCHING. John Cho stars as a father on the hunt for his missing teenage daughter (Michelle La) through the woods, online and amid the secrets of her laptop. PG13. 102m. BROADWAY, MINOR, MILL CREEK.
A SIMPLE FAVOR. A vlogger mom (Anna Kendrick) goes Nancy Drew when her new femme fatale pal (Blake Lively) vanishes. With Henry Golding. R. 117m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989). Do your hair and cry with Dolly Parton. PG. 117M. BROADWAY.
WHITE BOY RICK. Matthew McConaughey and Richie Merritt star in a true story about a teenage drug dealer who became an informant for the FBI. R. 102m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE WIFE. A woman (Glenn Close) ruminates on her thwarted literary career and her troubled marriage as her husband (Jonathan Pryce) prepares to accept a Nobel Prize. With Christian Slater. R. 102m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
ALPHA. Dramatization of an Ice Age hunter who teams up with a wolf to survive. PG13. 96M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
BLACKKKLANSMAN. Spike Lee's true-story drama about an African American cop (John David Washington) infiltrating the Klan is a crackling tale of intrigue, a character study and a painfully relevant look at a bygone era. R. 135M. BROADWAY.
CHRISTOPHER ROBIN. Pooh gets real with Ewan McGregor as the boy from the books. PG. 104M. BROADWAY.
CRAZY RICH ASIANS. A joyful, glamorous rom-com starring Constance Wu in full movie-star mode and Michelle Yeoh staring us all down. With Henry Golding and Awkwafina. PG13. 120M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE MEG. Jason Statham lands a big one with this brisk giant shark movie with better effects and performances than expected. You're gonna need a bigger popcorn. PG13. 113M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
NICO 1968. Biopic following the Warhol-era star, musician and addict on tour the year of her death. Starring Tryne Dyrholm. R. 93m. MINIPLEX.
THE NUN. Taissa Farmiga and Demián Bichir investigate creepy goings on for the Vatican in this Conjuring 2 prequel/spinoff. R. 96m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
OPERATION FINALE. Fifteen years after World War II, an Israeli agent hunts down a Nazi in Argentina. PG13. 123M. BROADWAY.
SKATE KITCHEN. A suburban teen (Rachelle Vinberg) finds her people and herself among New York City skater girls. R. 106M. MINIPLEX.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill