Vigilante films are a dime a dozen. Heck we’ve already seen at least two in 2018 with the “Death Wish” remake and “The Equalizer 2” and I did a whole list on vigilantes a while ago that you can read here. But admittedly it’s rare to see any film focus on a female vigilante. That’s the unique twist that “Peppermint” takes putting a woman scorn front and center as a controversial figure taking the law in her own hands. Still, we’ve seen the formula before, many times in fact. So “Peppermint” needs more than just a unique central character to stand out. Does it accomplish that feat or is “Peppermint” nothing more than the same old song and dance? Let’s take a look. This is my review of “Peppermint”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“Peppermint” stars Jennifer Garner as Riley North, a mother and wife struggling to makes ends meet and balance family time. Her husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) is also trying to provide for his family and receives an offer from a friend to be the driver in a theft of drug money from a local cartel. After a confrontation with another parent results in no one attending their daughter Carly’s (Cailey Fleming) birthday the couple decides to have their own celebration at the local winter carnival inspiring Chris to opt out of the robbery unbeknownst to drug kingpin Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba) who is already planning revenge. Garcia charges his goons with killing Chris and his family, successfully executing Chris and Carly in a drive-by but only injuring Riley including a bullet hitting her head. When Riley offers to identify the men who shot her family and testify she refuses payment from a lawyer who uses her head injury and assumed psychosis as well as a corrupt judge and district attorney against her. Riley flees custody after being ordered psychiatric help and returns five years later trained in firearms and combat to seek revenge on her family’s killers on the anniversary of their deaths.
I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time here because honestly there’s only one performance worth talking about and that’s Jennifer Garner’s. We all know she’s a capable actress. She’s had some duds along the way but she epitomized the female badass in the 2000s and she can still fit that bill. What I love about this role is that it’s filled with more complexity and layers than that actual film as a whole. Riley North is a broken woman who has seen her simple life destroyed by the actions of heinous men and feels the system is too corrupt to help. It’s a typical setup, but the vigilante we get is not as typical. A lot of times vigilantes are injured or wronged but the scars of those experiences aren’t as prominent throughout the rest of the story. Here they define the new Riley.
For five years she’s been dealing with the after effects of her family’s death with a head injury that may or may not have legitimately impacted her psyche and a blind thirst for revenge that has controlled her personality. We see that manifest itself in Garner’s performance. We can never tell if she’s doing what she truly thinks is right or if her actions are due to a deeper problem. Is she crazy and vengeful or is she truly insane? It’s an awesome character played perfectly by a capable actress who manages to capture all the nuances and subtleties that make Riley North much more than just a revenge-crazed mother. She’s a potentially damaged woman whose actions we can support but may not actually be the work of someone in their right mind. Honestly it’s the ONLY performance worth seeing in this film as everyone else, from the detectives to the drug lord, are as bland and predictable as ever. Hell I’d go so far as to support some of the accusations that this film is (albeit probably unintentionally) racist because most of the bad guys are minorities. African Americans, Asians and, of course, Hispanics make up the bulk of the bad guys with no real personality injected into any of them. If you want to take the time to read between the lines then this film could easily be considered one of the most stereotype ridden projects of the year so far and that pretty much sums up everyone but Garner in this picture.
I give “Peppermint” this much…it’s fun at least from an action standpoint. If all you’re looking for is Jennifer Garner suiting up and killing people “John Wick” style with precision and finesse this is the right movie for you. When the action kicks up and we actually see Riley North engaging in her vigilante behavior it makes for some awesome moments of pure shoot em’ up entertainment. That said it’s easy to compare this film to the other two vigilante movies of 2018 and from that perspective I feel like they were were actually a lot more fun fully embracing their unapologetic Second Amendment driven action and violence. “Peppermint” however seems to have more style and shows glimmers of what could have been a better film had it been approached with more inspired direction and writing. Still, the first thing a movie like this NEEDS to be is fun and “Peppermint” mostly accomplishes that.
Going back to Jennifer Garner’s characterization of Riley North though I really was impressed with how the writers at least tried to work concepts like mental illness and PTSD into the narrative. We’ve seen that done before but never quite like this to the point where we have a protagonist that we’re led to appreciate and support but the idea of giving her a head wound opens up interesting doors of whether or not she’s acting with a sound mind or if she has gone psychotic. We want to see her succeed, but should she? Is she really any better than the criminals she is killing? Sure she’s more justified, but is she any more in the right? It all depends on the true driving factor of her revenge and it forces viewers who take the time to see this conundrum to ask very important questions about the nature of vigilantism. It’s too bad the movie cops out at the end and never truly owns these ideas in the larger story but at least it offers something in the way of substance for a film that really doesn’t offer a whole lot of anything else other than great gun fights.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
But that’s the problem. The action and Garner’s underappreciated character details are the ONLY really good parts of this movie. Let me repeat what I just said. Garner’s character traits are completely underappreciated by the makers of this film to the point where I’m not even convinced it was the writers or director that founded that idea. It feels more like Garner added this in on her own because she was so bored with bringing a generic vigilante to life. Also, while the action is fun it takes a while for it to kick in because we’re thrown character introductions and a rushed and poor attempt to explain what Riley North has been doing for five years. The saddest part of this is it’s clear a lot of this story was summarized in order to get to the point but it still takes forever for things to kick in with only the drive by shooting and an opening scene revenge murder by North to tide us over for around 45 minutes of screen time until her rampage truly begins. This creates odd pacing and makes the film feel confused as to whether it wants to be an all out action movie with no regard to story or a developed revenge flick with a focus on character. In trying to be both it doesn’t succeed in being either instead feeling messy, phoned in and cliché in the process.
And that brings me to the harsh truth about “Peppermint”. I had a feeling it would be a cliché, derivative, uninspired vigilante movie from the previews but I honestly didn’t expect it to be as bland and forgettable as it really is. Save for very few exceptions everything about this movie is a carbon copy of the same old ideas incorporated into almost every vigilante film ever and it doesn’t even try to hide the fact that the writers pretty much opened a book of must haves for the genre and made sure to include every item on the list without any thought to being creative or original in their approach. Trust me, you’ve seen most if not all of this before and it’s not really better in “Peppermint”. What could have been an intriguing twist on the vigilante concept that explores mental health and the morality of such acts instead doesn’t know what it wants to be nor does it seem to care as long as you’ll buy a ticket.
“Peppermint” has some moments that help it at least be entertaining. It’s action packed and offers an interesting lead character whose flaws and potential mental issues force viewers to truly contemplate whether she is acting based on revenge or insanity. The problem is the film forsakes its social commentary in favor of the action and even then forsakes the action for quick, bland and unbelievably sloppy storytelling that messes with the pace and leaves viewers with an empty shell of a film made up of used parts and tired ideas. If you want to view a vigilante movie this year just go watch “Death Wish” or “The Equalizer 2” which are both much better shot and more properly made and executed even if they themselves are far from perfect. “Peppermint” doesn’t know what it wants to be and the filmmakers clearly didn’t care to offer anything new or original to the audience to the point where even when they did offer something unique with their character they berried it in a barrage of bullets and predictability. Bottom line unless all you’re looking for is Jennifer Garner returning to her badass ways with a gun this is one vigilante film worth skipping.