'Peppermint' (2018) Movie Review
I Do Love Some Kick-Ass Vigilante Revenge Flicks!
From the trailer, I was actually looking forward to Peppermint. For one reason, it is one hundred percent my cup of tea with it being a vigilante revenge flick; I love 1974's Death Wish and to an extent some of its sequels for more B-Movie trashy fun aspects. The Exterminator movies starring Robert Ginty are also a lot of fun. The Brave One with Jodie Foster and James Wan's Death Sentence were very intense, dramatic and provocative films in the same vein as the original Death Wish. Even earlier this year with Eli Roth's remake of Death Wish containing some entertainment value that appealed to me, as bad as that movie really was.
Second reason I was looking forward to Peppermint was the fact that Jennifer Garner was making a comeback to action movies. I like Jennifer Garner as an actress; whether it be in the action genre, her dramatic work, or her comedic roles. I find her to be a charismatic and extremely talented actress, just this year I saw her in Love, Simon where she was terrific in. But sadly I haven't seen her in an action movie in probably about ten years, so to see her return to that was actually exciting for myself to see again.
Peppermint, however, is just terrible. It's terrible because it doesn't successfully capture the dramatic effect or thrills from something akin to Death Wish, nor does it provide the silly entertainment value of the Death Wish sequels or The Exterminator. There's nothing interesting or innovative done with this story, the characters are basic archetypes that can be seen in countless other crime thrillers, the action is dull and forgettable, there is nothing to this film that can't be found done a million times better in another film. The violence and kills couldn't even bring any sort of sadistic joy to be had because it all seems so tame. This script could not exist if it wasn't for movies such as Death Wish or even more recent revenge action flicks like John Wick, that is how much Peppermint relies on the structure of other movies. It is everything we've already seen before, only executed with zero ambition.
Well, Here We Go Again...
Peppermint's narrative structure is so generic that its opening scene is one of my most hated cliches in most modern action films, starting off with an action sequence that leaves the protagonist in a withered state as an attempt to 'throw the audience off guard' just to cut to black and start the actual story sometime in the past. Every time it happens in a movie now I can't but groan because from there I feel like I know exactly how the story is going to play out; the second I see an opening action scene like this I'm already waiting to see a title card similar to "6 Months Earlier". And wouldn't you know it, that is exactly what this film does, only it's "Five Years Earlier"... What a twist! Don't get me wrong, there are times where that can work and be just fine. The opening of John Wick does that same thing, but I felt that film did it well. Here, however, it is just the first step in crafting a completely predictable story.
For a moment, imagine if Die Hard opened on the scene where John McClane is in the middle of a shootout against Hans and his gang, leading to John injuring his foot. John barely escapes the chaos, resulting in him having that very human conversation with Al over the walkie talkies. Then cut to a black screen with a title that says "Six Hours Earlier". Does that not take out all of the intensity of the film? Not only does it make the film feel extremely predictable, seeing how we already know where the story line will lead to, but also takes away any suspense we may have for the character since we know John will be fine up to that point; creating almost a weird time frame for the movie in the audience mind that forces them to have to wait for the movie to practically catch up with itself. It's a tedious and lame tactic that rarely seems to function properly for the story.
The story from that point doesn't break from the generic formula, except for when it surprisingly missteps. So the very crux for this revenge plot to transpire relies heavily on a somewhat confusing story element revolving around the husband contemplating to rob this drug cartel by a request from his friend. This is the whole reason why him and his daughter are gunned down in front of Garner's character, but I could not tell you as to why the husband even considered doing this or why his friend specifically asked him to help rob this gang. In the brief time spent on giving a look into the family's life, everything seems to be fine, at least on a financial level. There doesn't seem to be any need for money on his part or the rest his family. The film doesn't establish that the husband was ever associated with any criminal activity in the past, so it doesn't appear that he has a real want to do something like this. So in the first few minutes, I already feel a lack of character motivation for why this story even happens, making the plot already come across as forced. Not only does it seem pointless that the husband would ever consider doing something like this, the fact that it was literally only a single conversation between him and his friend that actually drives the cartel to slaughter them and their families. The husband and his friend didn't even attempt to steal anything yet, they simply had one chat about it and somehow they were discovered and that was enough to find and kill the husband, which at this point he had already turned down the offer.
So the family is having their generically happy time together when all of the sudden gang members perform a drive-by shooting on the family. Somehow seemingly bloodless, resulting in the death of Garner's husband and daughter with Garner being wounded as well. After waking up in a hospital bed, Detective Who Cares hands Garner a photo-booth picture set of the last moments she spent with her family alive, covered in their blood and telling her that they're dead. Because that's professional. After that she is able to identify the three men that were in the car that shot down her and her family. Unfortunately she succumbs to a case of the stupid disease when the gang members' lawyer tries paying her off to forget about the whole fiasco, instead of reporting what happened to the police or someone, she decides to let it slide and be questioned at the stand by him without uttering a word about it to anyone. Genius. The trial falls in favor of the defense, ruling the gang members innocent and from there Garner has a complete breakdown in front of the entire court room. This results in her being sentenced to a mental ward. Not entirely sure how this works since anyone who believes their family's killers got away with murder would probably be raving mad as well. As she is being shipped off to the loony bin, she makes her escape and then we cut to five years later where we originally started the movie.
In the five years between then and now was a major arc for Garner's character that we don't get to experience. Going from suburban wife and mother to green beret without any incite on how this came to be at all. She is just somehow automatically in action lead mode and also apparently knew how to disappear off the grid from the government and go on the run. Another thing, in the five years that Garner spent on the run, the F.B.I. for whatever reason were more fixated on tracking her down and trying to catch her rather than take down the cartel... Priorities? There really is no reason as to why they were tracking her, other than to supply a lazy exposition scene showing that Garner has been on the run and training all these years. Would have liked to actually see that rather than be told that and only shown a YouTube clip of her fighting, but it's fine. Whatever. It's cool. Who needs character arcs in a movie dependent on character driven story. Not me, that's for sure. Nope. I love not caring about what's going on in front of me.
Anyways, now that the movie has caught up to the present it immediately cuts out us being able to see her exact revenge on the three men that directly murdered her family. Seriously, we see the aftermath of the three men deceased. The rest is pretty much her taking out the cartel. Why do I care? This is a revenge movie where the three people who were directly responsible for killing her family is a footnote and glossed over almost instantly. How do you mess up your own revenge plot line by not showing her get her revenge on the men who pulled the trigger? Yes, I understand they weren't the boss who ordered the hit, but they were still a significant part of their murder and were focused on for most of the first act. Instead, we are left with Garner pulling a full frontal assault on the cartel in order to get to the underwhelming villain that ordered the hit. The actor playing the antagonist isn't bad, but he brings nothing to the table. He is every drug dealing gang leader I've seen in a action crime flick. I never found him intimidating or even all that interesting to watch, he was just another bad guy in a long list of bad guys.
There are story elements that are just missing from the movie, aside from the five year gap between the death of Garner's family to the present and the fact we are missing the actual revenge part of the revenge film. But how Garner was able to gather all of this information about the cartel, where their drug fronts are, discovering corrupt judges, her being on the run for five whole years with few times of being caught on the grid, her protecting an entire section of the city populated by the homeless for six months, gathering all of these weapons, training how to fight and perform tactical assaults, learning the entire system of this gang, etc. A lot of this I would probably be fine with if they either took their time to establish this for the character or if the tone of the film didn't take itself so seriously. For the most part, this film plays out as though it is supposed to be this serious hard hitting drama with action beats sprinkled throughout. Problem is that the drama doesn't hit at all, the story has too many leaps in logic the audience has to make, and the action is generic.
To talk about the action for a moment; not necessarily about the fact that it is not exciting at all. Although it is exactly that, there isn't a remotely riveting action scene to be found here. But I mainly want to discuss how it took me approximately two-thirds of the way through to realize that this movie was rated R. Not because of anything in terms of the violence either, it was because I noticed the dialog contained the F-word twice in a certain scene. Aside from that I truly thought that this was a watered down PG-13 flick, there is practically no blood to be seen in this movie. Now I'm not saying that because a film is rated R that it absolutely has to have buckets and buckets of blood in order to be a good movie, not at all. This movie would still be bad regardless of that. But when a film is supposedly for a mature audience and it somehow manages to garner the R rating, I expect there to be a good reason as to why. Plus, at the very least if this movie wasn't afraid to show some blood and maybe even some gore then I could say, "Alright, the movie was bad, but at least it had some teeth to it". Eli Roth's Death Wish remake was relatively bad, but with its absurd amount of violence in certain scenes helped me somewhat respect what it was doing. I don't respect this film. This was a case where I could tell they pulled punches and it hurt the action sequences immensely, which is a rather important part of an action movie I would say.
It also doesn't help with the fact that the editor's idea of style is to put in some post-production shaky cam work and flash cuts randomly here and there. The editing I wouldn't say was terrible, but it did reek of editing choices I would have seen done in a thriller ten or fifteen years ago. Although it was particularly bad editing when the movie would constantly flash back to scenes that we had just seen. For instance, immediately after the family was gunned down by the gang members, the next scene is with Jennifer Garner's character waking up in the hospital where she is having flashbacks of her family being gunned down only seconds prior. This makes the film severely drag on and become monotonous. Every time Garner was going through another one of her flashback episodes I rolled my eyes. Also it seems like she doesn't really miss her husband all that much since she only sees the 'ghost' of her dead daughter, but never her husband. Interesting. Not really. I don't care.
The last act is comprised of so many conveniences that it is annoying to watch while it happens over and over again. Whether something conveniently happens at the right place and time to keep certain people alive only because the writer seems to have written himself in a corner and didn't know how to keep the plot going to feature length. Jennifer Garner is trapped inside of an exploding warehouse that she's never been in before. That's okay, there just so happens to be a trap door in the middle of the floor for her to crawl down into the sewers to escape. Garner takes out an entire army to get to the man that ordered the hit on her family, staring him right down with a gun to his head, but it turns out he has a daughter that randomly after all this gunfire and explosions comes out to distract Garner just at the right time. And that daughter was not present prior or after said event. These type of things are constantly happening in the third act and it drove me insane.
You've Gone On Forever, Get To Your Point Already!
This movie sucks. I know, that is the least professional way of critiquing a movie, but there's no reason why this movie failed as drastically as it did. The story was a 'wash, rinse, repeat' tale that I've seen before done much better. The characters all come across as idiots so I didn't care what happened to anyone. There were too many missing components to take the movie seriously, yet the film took itself too seriously to be enjoyably dumb. The action and villain bored me to tears. And this is the third film I've watched, in a week, where the ending tries sequel baiting. I am getting tired of this trend in every movie where the writers or producers believe they have to set up an entire franchise on the first installment, not every movie needs to set up more films later on. Let a story just play out naturally, please! It just makes the movie feel even more like a product.
I don't recommend this on any level; if you're looking for a fun action film this movie falls flat and if you're looking for heart breaking drama it doesn't deliver. If that's what you're looking for then I refer you back to my suggestions towards the beginning of this review and steer clear of this. This is pointless to watch when there's better versions of it out there. If I had to force myself to say anything nice about this movie, I would have to say that Jennifer Garner does try to give her character life. There are two are three moments with her character that I thought were halfway decent, entirely because of her acting. Other than that, no. I got nothing. Don't see it, go watch Death Wish if you want a provocative vigilante thriller and watch Death Wish 3 if you want ridiculous Charles Bronson awesome action. Peppermint can rot in a fire... Peppermint. You know what the funny thing about the title of this movie is? It's not named after any character in this movie. It's named after a type of ice cream Jennifer Garner's daughter orders at a fair... No clue why. But that's a fun little fact to end this review on. The movie's title is literally based on peppermint ice cream. Peppermint!
Questions & Answers
© 2018 John Plocar