Directed by Pierre Morel.
Starring Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, Juan Pablo Raba, Annie Ilonzeh, Jeff Hephner, Cailey Fleming, Eddie Shin, Tyson Ritter, and Method Man.
Peppermint is a revenge story centering on a young mother who finds herself with nothing to lose, and is now going to take from her enemies the very life they stole from her.
Much has already been said and will continue to be said about the problematic nature of Peppermint, which basically sees a wronged and rightfully vengeful Caucasian mother gunning down hordes upon hordes of Hispanic gangsters. The fact that director Pierre Morel (having recently directed the god-awful Sean Penn led action flick The Gunman but is unquestionably most known for transforming Liam Neeson’s career with Taken, likely attempting to gift Jennifer Garner that same set of skills, who has proven herself to be capable of handling combat sequences but unfortunately hasn’t been given the right material to truly shine doing so like some of her male counterparts now heading up some impressive franchises) chose to go the direction of clichés and stereotypes isn’t what bothers me or necessarily makes the film underwhelming. No, Peppermint is also a movie where I can’t even tell you one of the villains’ names; they are generic cronies being passed off as big baddies who might as well be credited as “Drug Dealer #1” and so on and so forth.
It also doesn’t help that the experience takes itself deathly serious despite the absurdity on display. Shortly after Riley’s (Jennifer Garner) husband and young daughter are murdered by criminals (the family seems to have been struggling financially, prompting the man of the house to teeter back and forth between joining a friend in his risky plan to rob the gang, but not before firmly stating no and winding up six feet under anyway) we are told that during the five years between flashback and present-day she has magically taught herself how to be a ghost, how to handle military grade weapons with deadly precision, and has become an entirely different person that is only fixated on vengeance. It’s a far cry from the opening shot of the film which is actually quite humorous and fun; we see a vehicle rocking back and forth leading the audience to assume that a couple of sorts is having sex, but as the camera comes closer and peers into the car we get our first glimpse of Jennifer Garner putting close quarters combat skills to good use while blasting brains against the windows. The scene isn’t tremendous by any stretch, but the bait and switch at least show that the filmmakers once tried to embrace the silliness of the ordeal.
Regardless, once Riley’s offscreen self-taught training is complete, she returns back home to Los Angeles to enact her revenge. It starts out with a few dead bodies strung up on a towering structure to send a message, and before you know it she’s invading cocaine dens mowing down anyone involved with the operation like it’s a video game with auto-aim enabled. And that’s the important distinction to note; none of the action here is choreographed memorably or even chaotically entertaining, but rather a series of precise fatal gunshots. The higher the body count rises, indifference levels remain the same.
Meanwhile, various justice departments have personnel hot on the trail left from each slaughtering, consisting of notable actors John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, and even Method Man for some reason. Simultaneously, it’s also baffling how inept everyone is at their job which isn’t made any better by the terrible dialogue they are given – “Do you know what happened five years ago on this day?”, to which a character following this unfortunate series of events from the beginning replies “No”. That same character does always have time to grab a cup of coffee and flirt with coworkers. Only the best work in this department. Don’t expect the gangsters to have any better lines; truly, the less said about them the better.
Even Jennifer Garner is given rough dialogue, being forced to sell Riley’s emotional pain with the physicality of the brutality (to the credit of the makeup department, they do a wonderful job at dirtying her up and keeping up a sense of bruised progression from each action set piece to the next) and one or two small moments where she reminds neglectful parents she passes by the value and honor that comes from raising children. Peppermint definitely could have used more similar moments to add a little more characterization beyond bloodthirst. On the other side of the equation, it’s probably not necessary for townsfolk to create elaborate street-art murals depicting her as some sort of angel of death (as seen on the film’s promotional posters). There doesn’t need to be more imagery than there already is reminding more sensitive moviegoers that what we are essentially watching is, again, a white woman taking matters into her own hands carving out a path of revenge through numerous minorities. Early on, it seems as if a case could be made that society pushed her to the edge for questioning her mental stability while she correctly confirmed the culprits, subsequently letting them off with no punishment, but Peppermint is only concerned with crooked justice systems and late game betrayals that make no earthly sense and just exist to give the film a false sense of intriguing surprise.
Admittedly, I wasn’t bored out of my mind watching Peppermint, instead, pondering what could have been accomplished if the blueprint of this traditional narrative were applied to an open world video game where the player is given a choice on how they are viewed by society while taking revenge. There are quite a few glimpses of social media platforms and how they view the situation, and honestly, how people would react to this vigilante is more interesting than the act itself. With that said, some freedom of choice in an interactive environment could liven things up beyond witnessing the endless murder. Also, that aforementioned mural? Consider that some sort of grand achievement for maintaining purity throughout the murky waters of delivering justice in my hypothetical Peppermint video game.
At this point, I am putting far too much thought into Peppermint and more so than any of the filmmakers put in. So, I will just leave you with one final, horrifying thought: within one month STX has released Mile 22, The Happytime Murders, and now Peppermint. What is this studio doing? Peppermint isn’t the worst of the bunch, but it’s still a monumental waste of time and talent that comes equipped with all kinds of cultural issues. It might be worse than Death Wish; at least that movie was aware of how controversial it was.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com