Jennifer Garner plays a heartbroken widow out for revenge on the drug cartel who gunned down her husband and child in “Peppermint,” a by-the-numbers action thriller costarring John Gallagher Jr. and John Ortiz.
Directed by “Taken” helmer Pierre Morel from an originally conceived but deeply imitative script by Chad St. John, this latest take on the vigilante film brings absolutely nothing new to the genre, even with a strong female in the protagonist role. Oozing with familiar action beats, one-note stereotypes and unintentional hilarity, this inferior action thriller has a couple combat sequences working in its favor but the human drama that the narrative hinges on never succeeds in resonating with audiences. A mindless shoot em’ up with some seriously misguided notions of female empowerment, “Peppermint” is extravagantly bad, and not even Jennifer Garner’s dedicated portrayal of the female vigilante is enough to rescue this exercise in excess.
In the film, Garner plays Riley North, a dedicated wife and mother in Los Angeles to her husband Chris (John Hephner) and daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming). One night, a shady friend of Riley’s husband concocts a scheme involving skimming money from a powerful drug cartel, and even though Riley’s husband declines to participate, word about the plot gets back to the kingpin, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba). For payback, the cartel guns down Riley’s family, leaving her husband and daughter dead and Riley in a coma.
Upon awakening, Riley works with investigators to positively identify the shooters; but, due to the cartel having the entire justice system in their pockets, the murderers are found innocent, leaving Riley thirsting for revenge. What follows is a vigilante killing spree against everyone involved in the miscarriage of justice, from the crooked cops and justice officials who allowed the killers to walk to the drug cartel members who perpetrated the crime.
Although director Pierre Morel has earned his reputation as a stylish action director with a knack for crafting pulse-pounding thrillers like “Taken,” here he follows the revenge thriller handbook to the letter, delivering an entertainment that, though engaging in a superficial sense, is entirely predictable from start to finish. Part of the blame undoubtedly stems from the derivative script by Chad St. John that is chockfull of familiar scenarios, one-note bad guys and a badass female protagonist that we’ve seen represented onscreen countless times before. And while David Lanzenberg’s moody camerawork attempts to elevate the proceedings somewhat, the sloppy editing and uninspired musical choices more or less cancel out his efforts.
As for the acting, Jennifer Garner returns to her action heroine roots as the vigilante anti-hero at the story’s center, and she portrays her revenge-seeking character with almost comical conviction. It’s not that Jennifer Garner doesn’t commit to the role or credibly inhabit the character; it’s that the entire project is so completely over the top it’s hard to regard her plight with the seriousness it necessitates. Similarly, John Gallagher Jr. is perfectly competent as a double-dealing cop, as is John Ortiz playing possibly the only honest cop in the city, but the roles are as unmemorable as they come, and the main drug kingpin played by Juan Pablo Raba is equally stock.
“Peppermint” is a predictable revenge thriller that is as silly as its title.
By Lucas Mirabella
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout.