Peppermint is essentially the same film as Eli Roth’s remake of Death Wish from earlier this year, only slightly less visually flat and generally more interesting. But don’t misunderstand. Peppermint is not a great movie. It is merely better than one of the most lackluster action films of the year.
Jennifer Garner stars as Riley North, whose life takes a drastic turn after the gang members who killed her husband and daughter walk free. After the absurd kangaroo court traipses flat-footed over the case, North goes into hiding. Five years later, she resurfaces on the radar of authorities. It becomes strikingly clear that she is out for vengeance.
Between these spurts of revenge, North cleans up Skid Row using military-grade assault rifles and butterfly knives. She becomes an “angel” to the community, and support for her vigilantism rises on social media.
Aside from reading—for better or worse, depending on your views—like an NRA fantasy in which an upstanding citizen with a gun aims to take out murdering drug pushers from the Mexican cartels, this vigilante tale is rather unseemly. We are asked to enjoy the film more and more as the body count rises, yet the increased bloodshed only serves to dehumanize North.
The film takes some steps to breed sympathy for North in the first 10 minutes. She does everything to make her daughter’s birthday special, even though a nasty rival mother sabotages the party. It is simplistic world building, but it is charming enough.
Cut to an hour into the film, and North is no longer a human being. She has trained herself into a machine whose sole purpose is bloodletting. There is a desensitization that comes from the mechanical and continuous killing that causes the climax to be a bonafide slog.
Otherwise, the film moves at a brisk pace, mainly because it rarely pauses for actual storytelling. The police procedural element involving a triptych of law enforcement officers (John Ortiz, John Gallagher Jr., and Annie Ilonzeh) carries the bulk of exposition with the grace of a swinging mallet. Other than that, the narrative bounces from revenge mission to revenge mission with little care to character of plot.
For some, this will translate to an easygoing action experience. To others, it will be utterly distasteful. In either case, there is a hollowness to it all. The emotional weight of Garner’s performance dissipates in a flurry of gunfire until there is nothing left but a grizzled, stone-faced automaton of violence.
Taken director Pierre Morel installs visual flare into a couple of shots, but most of the action is packed into dark, lifeless spaces. Vacant warehouses. Dank alleys. None of it yields an appealing visual environment, regardless of whether or not the camera pans rapidly around characters.
Peppermint is lifeless, and not merely because of its excessive depiction of loss of life. Garner is wasted inside her robot character, and the supporting cast around her are pigeon-holed into conventional badge-wielding roles. It all reeks of a certain stock and trade, one in which the audience expects little enough that anything above mediocre will suffice. It’s been done before, better. It will be done again, better and worse.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)