Distributor: Universal Studios
Young mother Riley North (Garner) awakens from a coma after her husband and daughter are killed in a brutal attack on the family. When the system frustratingly shields the murderers from justice, Riley sets out to transform herself from citizen to urban guerilla. Channeling her frustration into personal motivation, she spends years in hiding honing her mind, body and spirit to become an unstoppable force – eluding the underworld, the LAPD and the FBI – as she methodically delivers her personal brand of justice.
Poor Brian Garfield. He wrote his novel, Death Wish, back in 1972, later adapted into the ‘74 Charles Bronson flick (remade this year, terribly, with Bruce Willis), and ever since then, a man or woman losing their family at the hands of criminals and subsequently being failed by the justice system, leading them to become a vigilante, has become a popular Hollywood trope. Many people have traversed that same gray-shaded path between justice and revenge: Jodie Foster in The Brave One, Michael Caine in Harry Brown, Nicolas Cage in Seeking Justice, and this list goes on. Like when Romero created the modern zombie, Garfield created the modern vigilante, and as time goes on, more and more people forget that.
The unlikely new addition to this movement comes in the form of Jennifer Garner in Taken director Pierre Morel’s den-mother-cum-vigilante-badass, Peppermint, which, from the first frame, is eager to emphasize how derivative it is. Peppermint is obviously culled together from other films about the very same thing, resulting in a finished product that feels so familiar, one wonders why anyone bothered. (It sometimes even strays outside of the vigilante sub-genre to borrow from other films, most notably Fight Club, when Garner’s character gives an an alcoholic father a violent lesson in parenting and takes the man’s license, professing to follow up later on to ensure he’s living the straight life.) There’s very little that makes Peppermint feel distinct from other vigilante films beyond the semi-stunt casting of Jennifer Garner, who, let’s face it, doesn’t make for a believable movie bad-ass. The movie is evidently hoping that some lame and very brief discussions about the different countries her character, Riley North, traveled to in the years following the unpunished death of her family is enough to establish that, yeah, she learned about fighting and military stratagem and weapons training and stuff, so just go with it. At least in previous vigilante films, the titular “hero” was unpolished and crude, emphasizing the every man-ness of the character. Riley North flew to Thailand to learn how to throw a punch.
Every single character is an empty shell. A handful of scenes of Riley crying in a van, or lead gang member Diego Garcia (even these names are uninspired), as played by a snarling Juan Pablo Raba, looking super angry and snarling angrily in Spanish passes for development. (When it comes to ethnic groups as cinematic villains, Latinos are neck-and-neck with Russians, and it’s getting very, very old).
Perhaps most alarming about Peppermint, given its crutch about familial loss, resulting in the loss of identity and utter hope from the movie’s heroine, is how it lacks any kind of emotion. The only thing bordering on humanity comes in the form of a sweet scene in which Mom and Dad (Jeff Hephner) try to cheer up their daughter, Carly (Cailey Fleming), after no one shows up to her birthday party, by improvising a night out — just the three of them. Otherwise, we’ve traveled this road so many times already that Peppermint fails to generate any kind of reaction beyond reactionary thrills that comes in the form of a bad guy being pinned between store shelves and shot point-blank in the face.
As for what Peppermint is “about,” the flick seems to have something to say about wealth disparities in the United States, as the Norths are a common, middle-class family engaged in mommy warfare against the much more well-to-do Peg (Pell James), while post-dead-family Riley lives in a van on skid row — evidently a safe place to hide because, I guess, no one cares enough to go down there and look. This is pure extrapolation on my part, because half-baked ideas like these ride throughout the entire flick — the film even ends on skid row, but again, absolutely nothing is done with it. If Peppermint has something to say about class warfare, it forgets to say it aloud.
This much I can say: Peppermint is way better than Eli Roth’s cheap, exploitative Death Wish remake, which pervaded theaters very briefly before failing miserably and disappearing quickly. Death Wish, one could argue, was “sanctioned,” being that it was based on Garfield’s novel. Peppermint, unlike Death Wish, isn’t poorly made or shooting for low-brow entertainment, and maybe that’s its problem. Unlike Death Wish, it’s never offensive enough to generate an actual reaction beyond fatigue, and sometimes that’s worse.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Justice: A behind-the-scenes featurette with Jennifer Garner & Director Pierre Morel
- Feature Commentary by director Pierre Morel