Peppermint (2018)
Peppermint (2018)

Genre: Action Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: September 7th, 2018 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Pierre Morel Actors: Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, Juan Pablo Raba, Annie Ilonzeh, Cailey Fleming, Jeff Hephner, Ian Casselberry

 


 

“Y

ou don’t remember me, do you?” What could have been a couple getting busy in the back of a car turns out to be a close-quarters duel between Riley North (Jennifer Garner) and a tattooed thug, trading lunges with a knife and, eventually, gunshots. As with seemingly every action-oriented picture of late, the opening sequence reveals a glimmer of intense violence, drawing viewers in with a flurry of movement. Apparently, introducing characters the old-fashioned way – chronologically – is a recipe for putting people to sleep. Of course, the film is still forced to flash back to five years earlier, seconds after Riley staples shut a gash in her leg and wraps it with duct tape.

In Los Angeles, Riley is described as a “soccer mom,” helping her Firefly Troop daughter to sell cookies in a parking lot. It’s little Carly Rose’s (Cailey Fleming) birthday, which means that they’ll also be preparing for a party that night. Husband and father Chris North (Jeff Hephner) takes a turn babysitting, while Riley is stuck with a closing shift at the Second Commerce Bank. The film strains to paint an urban, low-income, yet still idyllic family, struggling to deal with financial concerns, petty peers, and get-rich-quick schemes. One such chancy opportunity arrives when Mickey (Chris Johnson), a fellow auto shop worker, offers Chris a partnership in stealing from local drug-dealing kingpin Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba). Despite Chris refusing the job, rumors implicate him in the swindle, making him a target for assassination that very evening as the North family visits a carnival. In the blink of an eye, Riley’s life is snatched away, leaving her with nothing but bitterness and absent closure. “You think you’re gonna have justice?”

Like “Death Wish,” “John Wick,” “The Brave One,” or even “Taken” (also directed by Pierre Morel), this latest revenge/vigilante thriller sets up a pitiable protagonist who loses loved ones to random violence or reckless killers. And they don’t know whom they’re messing with. Strangely, neither does the audience, since Riley vanishes for five years, only to reappear with a newfound set of skills: military training (she’s also an explosives expert) that doesn’t fit with a lone internet clip of her boxing in an underground ring, dug up by federal agents. And by the end, it remains unclear how she got so good at exacting ruthless revenge. At least there’s a mention of bank robbery, which elucidates her ability to travel the world. Though she’s clearly supposed to be the hero, it becomes increasingly difficult to sympathize with her fully, particularly when her revenge spree initiates with such grisly activities as driving nails through the hands of the corrupt judge who dismissed charges against her family’s murderers.

Generic grieving, generic police chatter, and generic sleuthing give way to Riley’s road to recovery: brutal retribution. There’s no reconnaissance to speak of, just the steely woman showing up at the villains’ homes to torture and kill them. Curiously, the men actually involved in her staggering loss are practically all dispatched in the first few minutes (mostly off screen as well), forcing the movie to invent fresh droves of baddies for her to slaughter. The movie has no shortage of bodies to mutilate and batter with bullets; at one point, she even finds a drunk on a bus to threaten into behaving responsibly.

The plot is so simple that a brief romance must be stirred up between two supporting roles (the lead LAPD homicide detective on the case [John Gallagher Jr.] and a collaborating FBI agent [Annie Ilonzeh]), neither of which possesses enough depth or humanity to bother with. John Ortiz, though a dependable actor, is so inconsequential as a senior investigator that his involvement isn’t worth detailing. “Peppermint” operates on the most basic, unoriginal, uninspired revenge fantasy design that it rarely feels like anything other than a remake of overly familiar vigilante epics. Perhaps the only contemporary aspect is the use of social media to spread the word of her deeds, though this certainly isn’t a fresh concept in modern action pictures. Cathartic sequences of callous comeuppance are easy enough to enjoy, even when the bloodshed is needlessly gruesome, but this film contains plenty of unexplored opportunities to change up the tired formula – specifically with visions of Riley’s deceased child. It’s routinely frustrating just how often “Peppermint” opts for anticipated confrontations and escapes rather than artistic deviations from stale cliches.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10