Benjamin has been reviewing films for sixteen years and has seen more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the big deal?
Peppermint is an action thriller film released in 2018 and was directed by Pierre Morel, the driving force behind Taken. The film stars Jennifer Garner as a woman who sees those responsible for the death of her family walk free and returns five years later to exact revenge. The film also stars John Gallagher Jr, John Ortiz, Juan Pablo Raba, rapper Method Man and Annie Ilonzeh. The film was made at the height of the #MeToo movement and has been cited as an example of films trying to increase female representation in cinema. Despite a negative reaction from critics, the film earned a modest $52.7 million in the face of opposition from horror film The Nun which thrashed this film at the box office. It also earned Garner her first ever Razzie nomination for Worst Actress.
What's it about?
Five years ago, LA banker Riley North is helpless to watch her husband Chris' mechanic shop failing to make ends meet. Their ten-year-old daughter Carly is a rare ray of sunshine but when no-one turns up to her birthday party, Riley and Chris decide to cheer her up by taking her to a carnival. Unbeknown to Riley, Chris has been offered a role in an audacious robbery of local drug lord Diego Garcia by a work colleague but he instead calls him to tell him to keep him out of it. Sadly, Garcia has become aware of the plot and who is involved, including Chris. So as the family are out celebrating, they are caught up in a vicious drive-by that kills Chris and Carly and seriously injures Riley.
Despite her injuries, she is able to identify the three killers but due to Garcia's influence over the police and judge, the case is dropped due to insufficient evidence and Riley is sentenced to serve time in a mental institution. Escaping en route to the facility, Riley goes underground and disappears off the grid totally. Back in the present day, detectives Carmichael and Beltran are contacted by the FBI after the three killers are found murdered and their bodies left at the scene of the carnival...
John Gallagher Jr
Det. Stan Carmichael
Det. Moises Beltran
Juan Pablo Raba
FBI Agent Lisa Inman
Chad St. John
Release Date (UK)
25th February, 2019
Action, Drama, Thriller
Razzie Award Nomination
Worst Actress (Garner)
What's to like?
Peppermint might be labelled with a sugary sweet title but this is a grim and violent revenge thriller with about as much imagination behind it as an episode of Paw Patrol. Even the supposed subversion of having a female lead in a blood-soaked movie like this isn't as game-changing as it used to be - audiences have gotten used to this thanks to films like Salt, Hanna and Everly. Amid a veritable collection of female action stars, Garner does stand out as someone who can bring emotion to these roles that would otherwise go missing but is still able to be a bad-ass when necessary. Personally, I think the Razzie nod was unfair - the character is too underwritten so it's not exactly her fault.
In terms of action, the movie actually isn't that bad because it delivers scenes of visceral carnage with the sort of relish you'd expect from the same director of Neeson's brutal career-reviver Taken. It reminded me a lot of John Wick which is no disgrace whatsoever. But the film lacks the visual impressiveness of Keanu's B-movie blaster as it's seemingly shot in every rundown factory, slum neighbourhood and forgettable urban landscape in Los Angeles. It feels dirty and dumb, offering a little flash of action excitement before turning back to its terminally dull and improbable narrative.
- Garner trained for months learning how to handle firearms, how to fight with knives and even MMA training. By contrast, Garner only undertook one month of martial arts training before she auditioned for the lead role in action TV series Alias.
- Garner would not allow her hair to be cut short so for the scenes when she needed short hair, she had to wear a wig.
- Garner noted that the #MeToo movement had made some notable changes behind the scenes. In the past, Garner had no problem changing into different costumes in front of the crew. But as stories of sexual exploitation emerged, Garner asked for (and got) a special changing room for this purpose.
What's not to like?
Sadly, Peppermint doesn't leave a good taste in the mouth. Other than Garner flexing her action chops once again, the movie is devoid of anything original and feels so similar to countless other revenge thrillers - specifically Taken. I understand why Morel sticks so close to that film's formula but this film has a stupid narrative, predictable twists and little else to recommend. Take the film's obsession with discussing the amount of social media traffic generated by Riley's bloody trail of justice. The film is firmly on the side of a sociopathic serial killer and while it expects us to follow suit, I can't really see how this grieving mother can be excused so much death just because she got screwed over in court. Can anything justify this much carnage?
Garner's supporting cast offer little else to the picture, playing characters so one-dimensional that I'm surprised they needed doors opening for them. The film offers the usual blend of Latino stereotypes and shady coppers that we've all grown used to, not forgetting the ineffectual FBI agents who only really offer story exposition - I loved the idea that five years of cage-fighting explains how Riley goes from grieving widow to a military-grade one-woman killing machine! It wants to be taken seriously but the whole thing has a stone-faced campness to it, trying so hard to make Riley a righteous avenging angel instead of the obsessed serial killer she actually is. This is Death Wish with a very skewed moral compass and the original didn't exactly have a balanced opinion either.
Should I watch it?
Unless you miss the days of Garner blowing baddies away and not floundering in forgettable comedy-dramas, Peppermint is nothing like the breath of fresh air it believes itself to be. It is depressing and derivative in the extreme, aping countless action films and bringing nothing new to the table to interest or excite audiences. The action is OK but you'll never stick with it long enough to enjoy it and frankly, you're better off with another action picture.
Great For: very undemanding action fans, grieving psychotic widows, coasting on past successes
Not So Great For: Garner's career, anyone who has seen another action film, furthering #MeToo
What else should I watch?
They has been no lack of female-led action films down the years from Jennifer Lawrence's Russian spy in Red Sparrow to Pam Grier's iconic performance as Coffy. Among the best are Uma Thurman's katana-wielding Bride in Kill Bill, Sigourney Weaver's defining role Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise and Linda Hamilton's appearance as Sarah Conner in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I would also recommend the slightly left-field Hanna which combines fairy-tale, gun fu and the Chemical Brothers to make something very different to the norm.
As for Garner herself, she has crafted something of a niche for herself by appearing in dozens of films but never achieving that A-list status her talents might demand. Breaking out of the wreckage that was Daredevil, her career has seemingly stagnated behind a slew of forgettable rom-coms (Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past, the ill-advised Arthur remake) and unremarkable family comedies (Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day). She does occasionally pop up in better films and usually gives a better performance than the material deserves but so far, she is lacking that signature, award-winning role to put her firmly at the top of her profession.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox