Director: Pierre Morel
Writer: Chad St. John
Stars: Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz
Brash, bloody and shamelessly manipulative, Peppermint is exactly want you think it’s gonna be. And if you’re reading this, that also means it’s exactly want you’re hoping for. The movie may not have a lot of substance – or brains – but it is a lot of fun.
The peppermint of the title refers to the flavour of ice cream chosen by a little girl just before she and her father are gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The wife & mother, Riley North (Jennifer Garner), is shot in the head, but still able to identify the shooters, who are soldiers of notorious drug lord Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba). It turns out the husband was considering teaming with a buddy to steal Garcia’s cash, but backed out at the last minute. Too late to avoid Garcia’s wrath, though.
Because the judge and both lawyers at the trial are on Garcia’s payroll – the unscrupulous defence attorney paints Riley as an unreliable witness due to her use of painkillers – the shooters are all acquitted. Riley understandably loses her mind in the courtroom. A crooked judge orders her to be restrained and sent to a psych ward. However, she escapes and disappears.
Five years later, Riley returns to Los Angeles to get the justice she never got in court. Now a highly-trained, one-woman wrecking crew, she goes after everyone responsible…the lawyers, the judge and Garcia’s entire operation, as well as anyone she comes across who happens to be a horrible human being. In the meantime, Riley becomes sort-of a local hero because, unlike Paul Kersey in Death Wish, everyone is well-aware of her story due to social media. Two cops and an FBI agent follow the trail of bodies to try to stop the mayhem, but even though we learn of an informant on the force – you’ll easily figure out who – they are mostly inconsequential to the story other than providing exposition.
Both narratively and aesthetically, Peppermint treads familiar ground. There’s little in the way of tension and nary a scene we won’t see coming from a mile away. The film is also loaded with implausibilities and plot contrivances. However, it does push all the right emotional buttons. By having Riley’s misery increasingly compounded by various scumbags throughout the film, the numerous scenes where they get their comeuppance are gleefully rousing and fittingly brutal. I do, however, take issue with the decision to gloss over the death of one of its most hateful characters.
Speaking of which, the characters themselves are generally one-note, especially Gracia, your garden-variety seething ball of viciousness. The important exception is Riley, who’s easy for any parent to empathise with. Garner makes a welcome return to the action genre with an intense and convincing physical performance. The action itself is well-staged, bloody and generally pretty exciting, even during some of the more outlandish moments. As someone who finds a perverse amount of guilty pleasure in revenge movies, I found it quite satisfying (then again, I also enjoyed the recent remake of Death Wish more than I probably should have, so maybe I’m the wrong guy to ask).
Is Peppermint a great film? Not by a long shot. Never intended to stimulate the intellect, it mostly delivers as promised, sticking to the tried-and-true with a story that’s been told before and doing it with a lot of flare. If nothing else, this is a film that certainly knows its audience. Anyone who enjoys a heaping helping of revenge (with a big side of deja vu) are encouraged to check it out.