Review: Peppermint



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One step forward, two steps back. Released weeks after Crazy Rich Asians showed that audiences will go all in for a romantic comedy starring Asians – as opposed to blindly noticing the token friend or the Long Duck Dongs of the world – we get a revenge flick where Latinos are all tatted up and playing forgettable gangbangers and drug kingpins, standing in the way of a mommy with a sweet tooth.

Peppermint sees Jennifer Garner returning to her roots as a kick-ass heroine. Before the likes of ScarJo and Emily Blunt were giving the business to foes on the big screen, Garner was gaining a rep on the small screen as Sydney Bristow in Alias. That success catapulted her to play Elektra opposite star-cum-future husband Ben Affleck in Daredevil. The failure of a solo spin-off derailed Garner as a silver screen siren, but it allowed her to concentrate on family matters. She would pop in the occasional ensemble comedy and work with the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Bryan Cranston, Kevin Costner, and Hugh Jackman.

The same year she played the understanding mom in Love, Simon, Garner plays the mother of a different sort in a vigilante flick from the director that showed why kidnapping Liam Neeson’s daughter is a very bad idea. (He’s got a “very particular set of skills” to get her back.) Pierre Morel wants Peppermint to be the female version of Taken, at least in terms of style, with a loving mother Riley North looking to write wrongs after witnessing her husband and ten-year-old daughter, Carly, murdered gangland style. The killings were swift, but the legal system failed her.

When husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) is offered the job of being the wheelman for a heist it veers into a bad situation that’s connected to Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), a local drug kingpin. Wanting to make a strong statement Garcia orders some of his vatos to kill Chris and his family at an amusement park. Riley survived, but identifying the three Latinos out of a lineup was not enough to level a guilty verdict. The murder trial was rigged and the suspected shooters walk. Riley then goes off the grid for five years so that she may one day re-emerge and conduct a symphony of vengeance.

We’ve seen this story before, where the victim becomes judge, jury, and executioner. Riley comes back and works her way up the ladder, going after Diego’s underlings. She doesn’t stop with the three associated with killing Carly and Chris; this mommy has her eyes on killing Diego.

Yawn.

Peppermint has some impressive kills, though Jennifer Garner lacks the Fred Astaire grace Keanu Reeves showed in John Wick. Garner moves more like her character in 13 Going on 30, where she gets future Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Aside from Riley’s killing spree, the rest of the vigilante flick is a bore. We never truly empathize with her character. Riley goes through Diego’s men fairly quickly; an automaton in a third-person action game. Even Morel’s ocular touches are distracting. He tries to match Tony Scott’s style from the likes of Domino and Man on Fire, with visual flares and fast cuts, to make it look cool. Morel would like to use a paint brush but all he has is a can of spray paint.

Revenge stories have their tropes and screenwriter Chad St. John goes through the playbook like he was crossing off items on a shopping list. He even includes throwaway moments where Riley confronts a drunkard father by threatening his life if he doesn’t get his act together and be a fit parent to his son. She also punches a bitchy woman in the face (they have a history) and threatens to burn her house down. Yes both scenes happen and they should have been cut.

Bad screenplays hurt the actors. Jennifer Garner is boxed in as a character. Give her a catchphrase, something. It doesn’t have to be meme-worthy just a catchy signature. Aside from Garner, John Gallagher, Jr. and John Ortiz, both talented actors in their own right, play the detectives that become embroiled with Riley’s vigilantism. Their inclusion are tangential at best, usually showing up after Riley kills more than a dozen Latinos. Causality: The risks of being an underling for a drug kingpin.

Bottom line: Peppermint is not a minty fresh tale of vengeance, and Riley North is as cool as a Peppermint Patty.

Director: Pierre Morel
Writer: Chad St. John
Cast: Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, Juan Pablo Raba
Rating: R
Running Time: 102 minutes

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