Vigilante parents tend to be the realm of men, at least on screen. “Death Wish” and its various reboots, ripoffs, and sequels, sort of set the tone. A pacifist loses the ones they love and turn to violence to right the wrong. With “Peppermint,” the gender is swapped, which is a potential-laden concept. After all, a woman scorned is another classic cinematic trope. Unfortunately, the film here is dumb as rocks, with almost no plot to speak of, doing nothing with the concept. It’s almost like the Cliff Notes version of a more satisfying movie. Every possible corner is cut, making for a real low rent effort on display. Standards are low for mindless action fare, to be sure, but even so, this flick falls well short of the mark.
“Peppermint” is all about immediate and surface level gratification. Scene after scene centers on our heroine butchering some very bad people. Much of the advertising centers on how this is from the director of “Taken,” which should set some level of expectation. Here, however, instead of seeing Liam Neeson save his daughter, you watch Jennifer Garner try to avenge hers. There’s an initial rush to be found, especially when she opts for some more creative executions. Unfortunately, her character is so underwritten, you can’t suspend disbelief like the film needs you to. It’s a screenplay issue, exacerbated by mediocre direction.
The poor scripting starts from the top. The first scene in the movie shows Riley North (Garner) struggling with and then killing someone. She asks him if he remembers her. Then, she heads to a van on skid row where she lives. From there, we double back five years to find out what happened to Riley. She’s a working mother, doting on her girl scout daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming), and deeply in love with her mechanic husband Chris (Jeff Hephner). They have money problems but are clearly happy. In an effort to solve their financial woes, Chris contemplates robbing a drug dealer. He ultimately opts not to, but kingpin Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba) gets wind of this and orders the entire family killed. Riley survives the drive-by shooting, but her daughter and husband are dead.
Investigating the crimes are Detectives Stan Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.) and Moises Beltran (John Ortiz). The latter warns the former that those who go up against Garcia usually wind up dead. Riley identifies the gunmen, but a corrupt justice system lets them go free. In fact, only she is arrested during the pretrial hearing. Escaping an ambulance, she runs off, literally disappearing. Years later, she re-appears, having become a killing machine, and she’s exacting revenge on the murderers, the corrupt judge/lawyers, and Garcia himself. The public catches wind of this and actually begins rooting her on.
Now a full-fledged vigilante, Riley closes in on Garcia, while Beltran and Carmichael, along with FBI Agent Lisa Inman (Annie Ilonzeh), try to catch her first. Everything ultimately turns into an orgy of violence, which isn’t unexpected. It would be nice to find out how Riley gained those skills, but the film is wholly unconcerned with logic or plot holes like that. That’s just the kind of half-baked effort this is.
Jennifer Garner is a real badass here, that much goes without saying. Even though we never see her transformation (more on that later), she goes from a warm wife and mother to an expect murderer. To her credit, you do root for her. It’s a gritty performance that is arguably better than the movie around her. The same goes for the work turned in by John Gallagher Jr and John Ortiz. You’d actually watch them in an effective cop flick, as opposed to this nonsense. Other performances like the ones from Cailey Fleming, Jeff Hephner, Annie Ilonzeh, and Juan Pablo Raba leave no impression. Among the other thankless supporting parts, folks like Method Man pop up, though they have nothing to do.
Director Pierre Morel treats “Peppermint” like it’s a “Saw” sequel, visually. The screen shakes uncontrollably every few seconds, resembling a music video more than a movie. Morel was the director behind “Taken,” which looks masterful compared to this. The aforementioned problematic script from Chad St. John only is concerned with violence. There’s literally only one brief mention of Riley showing up out of the country in an MMA fight to explain her sudden skills. How that makes her an expert shot is beyond me. You’re just supposed to accept that the training happened. She goes from Bruce Wayne to a deadly Batman (putting former spouse Ben Affleck‘s willing to kill Dark Knight to shame), but we never get to see it. It’s a bizarre missed opportunity.
For a movie that runs 102 minutes, “Peppermint” is in far too much of a hurry to work. Skipping over any semblance of interest in how this damaged character becomes an action hero is an unforgivable offense. It’s hardly the only issue for the film, but it’s the worst one. Garner does her part, but it’s in vain. “Peppermint” is VOD quality, yet somehow is coming out in theaters. The movie just doesn’t make it worth your while.