Certainly not original, but thoroughly entertaining.
Peppermint is a revenge film starring Jennifer Garner and is directed by the guy who made 2008’s Taken with Liam Neeson. Everything you need to know about this film can be found in that single sentence.
Along with Taken and Peppermint, Pierre Morel has also directed 2010’s From Paris with Love (a revenge film with John Travolta) and 2015’s The Gunman (a revenge film with Sean Penn). The man certainly has a brand when it comes to making movies.
Which isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of revenge movies and television shows out there in Hollywood — many of which are great (The Punisher, Kill Bill, John Wick, even this year’s Revenge was pretty good, just to name a few) — meaning it’s tough to stand out in this genre. Morel’s films may not be the most exciting of the bunch, they’re all relatively simple as he’s locked down a formula that works for him.
Peppermint, more or less, sticks to that formula almost to a tee.
Jennifer Garner plays Riley North, a Los Angeles banker who’s trying to provide for her husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) and daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming) and has seemingly never picked up a gun once in her life.
Unbeknownst to Riley, Chris has gotten into business with the wrong people — more specifically, the cartel. Granted, that business was over very quickly, as he immediately regretted his decision and tried to back out at once, but it was already too late.
Before long, the North family are put on a hit-list, which then leads to both Chris and Carly being taken away in body bags.
Riley is beside herself, not knowing what to do. Even the law doesn’t provide her with any kind of relief, as the men who killed her family are able to get off scot-free due to technicalities — or rather, buy-outs.
That’s unacceptable for Riley. She wants revenge.
She’s also not an idiot and knows she can’t just go marching into the cartel’s headquarters and expect anything less than a bullet to the head. So, instead, she leaves.
Nobody is sure where she went or what happened to her until five years later when Detective Stan Carmichael (John Gallagher) and Detective Moises Beltran (John Ortiz) get a call that three new bodies have just shown up at the exact place where Riley’s family was killed.
Sure enough, they’re the three men who killed Chris and Carly all those years ago.
The bodies don’t stop there, either, and the detectives soon piece together everything that’s happened. Riley disappeared so that she could train in martial arts, combat and weapons handling so that she can be ready for what comes next.
What comes next, of course, is a whole lot of bloodshed and gritty action scenes.
Which is exactly what you should expect out of Peppermint, and it’s the reason why I’m confused how this has a 14 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Nothing inside of Peppermint is suggesting that it’s trying to be an awards-qualifying kind of film. It’s all pretty simple, and if you approach it with that kind of mindset, you can have a good time with the film.
Granted, there are still problems galore, and those problems are only going to keep emerging if you really want to sit down and dissect this thing. The plot is paper-thin and all character arcs take place within the first twenty minutes of the movie and are then completely abandoned.
That being said, I actually really like Jennifer Garner in this role. It seems like inspired casting, as I’ve never really seen her do anything like this before and certainly wouldn’t have pictured her in something like Peppermint prior to this, but she owns it.
The writing of her character can be somewhat hit-or-miss at times, as the screenplay isn’t exactly sure how to paint her in an anti-hero kind of light. In some moments, she’s literally painted as an angle (which isn’t an exaggeration, there’s actually an image of Riley with angel’s wings that’s repeatedly shown), and at other moments she’s hijacking random pedestrian’s cars and brewing into innocent people’s homes.
Yet, there’s something special about this role strictly going to Garner, as there aren’t a lot of movies out there starring middle-aged women as action stars who are singlehandedly kicking ass. She’s working by herself for the entire movie, meaning she never once has to call for help or rely on a man to come save her when in peril. Peppermint may not be the crown jewel of the feminist movement, but it’s smarter than you might expect it to be.
I can’t say the same for the rest of the characters, because everyone else is pretty boring and cliché.
John Gallagher Jr. is a talented actor (another shoutout to The Miseducation of Cameron Post) who really should be taking better roles than this, because he has nothing to do here. They try to tack on some last minute twists to his character in the third act, but none of them are executed well enough to actually make us buy it.
The villains are all incredibly generic as well, as they’re strictly defined as cartel members and drug runners who don’t have any kind of other motivation whatsoever.
There’s also this weird half-message about the use of social media and how that can paint a vigilante like Riley North. It’s an interesting idea that could have brought a new twist to Peppermint but, similar to Death Wish, they don’t really commit to the idea and it’s just kind of this weird distraction that occasionally is re-visited from time to time.
To be clear, Peppermint is a better movie than Death Wish is as there’s nothing offensively bad here. You see everything coming from a mile away and there isn’t anything new Peppermint adds to the genre, but watching Jennifer Garner taking out armies of men in bloody fashion is enough to make the movie work. At least, on some sort of basic level. It’s not one that you absolutely need to see, but you also won’t hate yourself if you wind up watching it at some point.
What did you think of Peppermint? Watch the trailer here and then let us know in the comments below!
'Peppermint' review: You get exactly what you pay for5