The pitch for Peppermint is a simple one: a gender-swapped Death Wish from the director of Taken. While that’s pretty straightforward and there’s another layer of intrigue and potential with Jennifer Garner making her return to the action genre, Peppermint is loaded with problems conceptually, thematically, and in execution.
Pierre Morel exports the pacing and ease of the hero’s journey from Taken, but that becomes problematic when dealing with the question of what happens when a hardworking white mother has her daughter “permanently taken” (to use a disgusting parlance of our time) by a group of brown immigrant thugs.
It’s impossible to ignore the implications here, in 2018, especially when watching Garner mow through a bunch of gun-toting Hispanic drug dealers in a piñata warehouse. Taken rose above its broadness thanks to star Liam Neeson, and while Garner is game here, the grossness and shoddy filmmaking in Peppermint is just too much for her to overcome. Having a couple of “good” people of color and “bad” white people isn’t enough, either.
Bank worker Riley North (Garner) and her mechanic husband (Jeff Hephner) are scraping by while trying to raise their daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming). The patriarch contemplates robbing drug kingpin Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), but because he’s a good guy, he backs out. Garcia has already caught wind of the scheme though, and orders a hit. A carful of gangbangers (not explicitly stated as MS-13, but they have the “MS” face tattoos), targets the Norths while they’re at a Christmas carnival, killing the father and Carly. The young girl was holding a Peppermint ice cream cone as she was gunned down. The father had chocolate, but I guess no one cares. The whole Peppermint thing doesn’t really matter anyway, as it plays no part in the film after this point.
After the killers get off thanks to a corrupt system, Riley disappears for five years, resurfacing on the anniversary of her family’s murder. She’s buff, armed to the teeth, and ready to for vengeance. As the bodies pile up, the detectives who were on the case five years earlier (John Ortiz and John Gallagher Jr.) try to track down the rampaging momma bear with the help of FBI agent Lisa Inman (Annie Ilonzeh).
The script is misguided and clunky from the start, beyond even the ever-flowing racist undercurrent. Giving the drug dealer a “reason” to target the Norths is unnecessary and unwieldy in the story, and from there motivations for all characters are one-note and there’s no ambiguity to Riley’s quest. She hesitates to kill the kingpin for a second in front of his daughter, but that exists only in that singular moment and doesn’t matter in the next.
Riley handles the bulk of her murder spree before the film is half-over (mostly off-screen in regards to the three people who pulled the triggers), and from there true catharsis in non-existent as she slices and shoots through mostly anonymous dudes. Twists and turns are ridiculous and/or horribly telegraphed, as in the arcs for the two detectives. If you’ve seen any movies, you know that because the filmmakers are trying so hard to convince you of one thing, the other thing will be true. There’s a laughable third act deus ex machina – or deus ex dumpster – involving a cell phone and somehow linking up to the local news to conveniently solve problems.
The action scenes are mostly unremarkable, save for a moment where Garner walks behind a slow-rolling SUV while shooting down hoodlums and a sweet trick she pulls off with the strap of a semi-automatic weapon, and they’re edited so choppily it’s hard to get pulled into anything. The editing style throughout, which includes some fluttery, dreamlike sequences, feels like something generic from the early ‘90s. And it would’ve been bad then, too.
Statements on righteous vengeance (or justice, but this is straight up vengeance) are lost in the hail of gunfire, as is the surface-level dive into the idea of a corrupt justice system and “the
man” holding down the working woman if its in its own interest. There are disparate comments on class, with Riley slumming it in Skid Row as her base of operations and having a couple of
cringe-worthy encounters with a bougie acquaintance that make both her and the well-to-do woman look terrible. Though Garner shows she’s still a badass that can carry an action tale, nobody gets
out of this mess unscathed.