Peppermint: I’d caught the trailer for this movie on YouTube a couple of months ago and was waiting anxiously for it to arrive. Having watched Jennifer Garner kick butt in “Alias” I was delighted at the prospect that she’d return to the action genre. The finished product, though, left much to be desired – mostly, originality.
The script is pretty much a bastard child of Sicario and Death Wish. Garner’s Riley North suffers a devastating loss when her husband and daughter are killed in a drive-by shooting. Riley’s seriously wounded, but she’s able to identify the three gang members in the car (somehow, since she was far away, and the shooting took place at night). The men’s lawyer tries to bribe her. Why is never explained, since the fix is in with the judge and prosecutor. After the case is thrown out, Riley disappears for five years, traveling the world to develop “a very particular set of skills.”
The major skill acquired is the services of the director of Taken, Pierre Morrel. The action is fierce and well-choreographed, so it does draw you in. The weakness is the script by Chad St. John, who’d previously done London Has Fallen. Other than Riley, the characters are flat stereotypes – a ruthless Mexican gang lord (Juan Pablo Raba) who wants to be Al Pacino in Scarface, a disillusioned detective with a drinking problem (John Gallagher Jr.), a dedicated FBI agent (Annie Ilonzeh) who’s been tracking Riley so she can provide the backstory, and so on. Rather than keep the focus as a tight revenge flick, St. John has Riley become a guardian angel to the skid row inhabitants where she hides when she returns to LA. You can also hear echoes of other film plots scattered throughout the movie.
Even with all that, Garner comes close to pulling it off. For her next project, she’ll be doing the series “Camping” on HBO along with David Tennant. But I do hope she’ll take another crack at the action genre, if she can find a better vehicle.
White Boy Rick: This is a big production for a small-time story. The plot’s ripped from the headlines of a thirty-year-old paper, the (roughly) true story of Rick Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt) who’d started out helping his hustler father (Matthew McConaughey) sell guns illegally. The FBI uses the threat of arresting his dad to push Rick into helping them investigate the drug trade in Detroit. In the end Rick becomes a major player before he turns eighteen, only to see it all crash down.
The movie has an abundance of fine actors, including Jennifer Jason Leigh as an FBI agent plus Bruce Dern and Piper Laurie as Rick’s grandparents. McConaughey delivers a raw, memorable performance, and newcomer Merritt is a natural in front of the camera. They’re eclipsed, though, by Bel Powley as Rick’s older, addicted sister Dawn who struggles to get clean.
It’s a grim story told against the backdrop of grimy and gritty Detroit. It feels, though, that Rick’s story isn’t large enough to fit the effort that went into the production. Wershe was a street-level hood, and he’s not compelling enough to raise the story to the level of tragedy. Despite the excellent performances, you really don’t want to spend the movie’s running time with these characters.
There is a strange Hollywood connection to the story, though. The movie touches on the corruption of the Detroit police, which later led to indictments against a number of officers. After a 13-year-old boy is mistakenly killed in a hit on a drug dealer, one of Rick’s mentors turns to a cop to help cover up the killing. While the movie uses a different name, both Rick and his supplier, Johnny Curry, named Gil Hill as the officer who helped. Hill was the head of the Detroit Police homicide division, and in 1984, during the time White Boy Rick takes place, Hill was assigned as a technical adviser to Martin Brest when he directed Beverly Hills Cop. Brest ended up casting Hill as Eddie Murphy’s tough boss, Inspector Todd. The FBI investigated Hill in the cover-up, but no charges were ever filed. Hill passed away two years ago.