Peppermint is a routine, Death Wish-esque, violent revenge thriller. It is sloppily written and poorly structured, with characters I could not have cared less about. Though it does have one thing going in its favor. In the starring role of a woman out to kill the people responsible for the deaths of her husband and daughter, Jennifer Garner brings far more passion and skill than this screenplay deserves. Despite making her name playing a spy on Alias, it has been over a decade since she has done action. This project makes it clear that she can still carry a story like this. Sadly, her material this time could not be carried past occasionally watchable.
Garner is Riley North, a loving wife and mother who sees her family gunned down in a drive-by. She ID’s the shooters, but the legal system fails her. Five years later, she returns to town with a full arsenal and plans to punish everyone implicated in the shooting. This involves a lot of bloody vengeance along with a dull subplot focusing on the detective investigating her murder spree.
Part of my problem with Peppermint is that the most interesting section of the story takes place off-screen. After the judge lets her family’s killers go, Riley disappears. The movie then skips to her return (actually, in an odd bit of structuring, it begins by showing her battling one of her targets, then flashes-back to the events that led her to that moment). Her transformation from mild-mannered bank employee to expert instrument of merciless justice occurs in a couple lines of dialogue. She is basically a different person when things pick back up.
I would have been interested in seeing at least some of the training and planning she did during her sabbatical. However, that is not the movie director Pierre Morel has made. Instead, he went with a derivative thriller about a relentless killing machine who becomes a vigilante hero because her victims are bad people.
Last year’s Death Wish remake included social commentary on the media, social media and gun control. It did very little with those topics, but it still does more with them than Peppermint. This movie barely even introduces them before it starts ignoring them. All it really wants to do is watch its lead character go about her mission, yet it spends so much time with the police that it seems like the filmmakers were trying to force a comparison between what she is doing and what they are supposed to be doing. Alas, I am pretty sure it was just an unsuccessful attempt at narrative trickery that makes large segments more irrelevant than they initially appear.
Peppermint (95 minutes without the end credits) is as lazy as a revenge thriller can get. The story is a thin excuse for Jennifer Garner to look cool while murdering bad guys. She does, but that does not make this an enjoyable viewing experience. It is mostly payoff following the smallest amount of setup the filmmakers could get away with and still have the action make sense. 2017’s Death Wish was gratuitous violence with a sliver of purpose. Peppermint is gratuitous violence for the sake of fun. Unfortunately, it lacks that, too.
1¾ out of 5
Jennifer Garner as Riley North
John Gallagher Jr as Detective Stan Carmichael
John Ortiz as Detective Moises Beltran
Juan Pablo Raba as Diego Garcia
Annie Ilonzeh as FBI Agent Lisa Inman
Directed by Pierre Morel
Written by Chad St. John