Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Pierre Morel
Stars: Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher jr, John Ortiz, Annie Ilonzeh, Juan Pablo Raba, Jeff Hephner, Cailey Fleming, Cliff “Method Man” Smith, Eddie Shin, Tyson Ritter, Jeff Harlan.
This violent vigilante thriller with a high body count is like a cross between Keanu Reeves’ ultra-violent John Wick and Death Wish, albeit with a strong female protagonist.
Peppermint stars Jennifer Garner, who really came to prominence with her role as international spy Sydney Bristow, who was recruited straight out of college, the kick arse heroine of JJ Abrams’ popular television series Alias that ran from 2001-2006. Since then she has mainly appeared in a series of light dramas and romantic comedies. Peppermint sees her return to doing what she does best playing a strong woman of action.
Garner plays Riley North a typical suburban housewife and soccer mum who watches as her husband and daughter are gunned down outside a funfair by members of a drug cartel. Even though Riley is able to identify the killers in a line-up because of their distinctive tattoos, their shyster lawyer and a corrupt judge sets them free. Riley attacks them in the courtroom, is tasered and sentenced to a psychiatric ward for treatment. She manages to escape and then disappears from sight.
Five years later she returns to Los Angeles, pumped up, heavily armed and trained and ready to take down the cartel and its vicious leader Diego Garcia (played by Juan Pablo Raba, from the tv series Narcos, etc). She lives off the grid in a dilapidated old van parked on the streets of an impoverished neighbourhood which is a refuge for the homeless. As she takes down the cartel her violent actions make her something of a media star, although heated debate wages over whether she is a hero cleaning up the streets or a vicious killer. This is similar to the debate that ran through the recent underwhelming Bruce Willis remake of Death Wish.
Peppermint has been directed in robust fashion by Pierre Morel (From Paris With Love, etc), the former cinematographer who put Liam Neeson through his paces in the tough revenge driven action thriller Taken, and he is a dab hand at staging some strong action sequences. He wastes little time in getting straight into the action here.
Peppermint has been written by Chad St John, whose only other feature script was London Has Fallen. This is a standard revenge flick, formulaic and fairly predictable, and he brings little that is fresh to the subgenre. The violence here is quite gruesome and strong though and some moments are not for the squeamish. The plot itself is a little ludicrous at times, and we are not given enough information about Riley’s transformation from grieving widow into a lean mean killing machine. An FBI agent (Annie Ilonzeh) gives us some information about her movements around the globe during the past five years, but it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions.
Action scenes take place in a variety of locations ranging from the cartel’s sprawling compound in an upmarket locale outside LA to a pinata factory and warehouse. Morel certainly brings plenty of muscle to the visceral action scenes, but they are occasionally edited in that choppy fashion by his regular editor Frederic Thoroval that renders them a little chaotic. The dark and moody cinematography from David Lazenberg (Paper Towns, etc) adds to the grim tone of the piece.
It is interesting to see a strong capable woman fronting a violent action film, and Garner’s physical presence here is reminiscent of the likes of Linda Hamilton in the Terminator movies, Sigourney Weaver in the Alien series, Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde, and even Jamie Leigh Curtis in the recent reboot of Halloween. Garner obviously hoped that working with Morel here would do for her career what Taken did to establish Neeson as the go to action hero. But while she is quite convincing in the physically demanding role as one-woman army waging war against cliched, heavily armed and heavily tattooed Hispanic gangbangers she is let down by the formulaic nature of the script and the lack of any real character development. The villains are a cliched lot, and there is even the stereotypical corrupt cop (John Gallagher jr, from The Belko Experiment, etc) who is in league with the drug cartel.