Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 13, 2018)
From the director of 2008’s hit Taken, 2018’s Peppermint introduces us to Riley North (Jennifer Garner), a woman whose husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) and daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming) die in a vicious assault. This attack also leaves Riley in a coma, and she goes into a long self-imposed exile when she awakes.
Five years after these tragic events, Riley re-emerges as a trained warrior, one intent on revenge. Those who killed her family remain at large, so when the legal system doesn’t help, Riley takes the law into her own hands.
I tend to associate Garner with “softer” roles like Juno and 13 Going on 30, so I forget that she also enjoys an action background. Garner first gained fame as the lead in TV’s spy thriller Alias, and she also got a superhero spinoff film via 2005’s Elektra.
This means Peppermint allows Garner a return to her roots, and I’d like to view it as a success. Unfortunately, it becomes such a tedious array of clichés that I didn’t find much to embrace.
To some degree, Peppermint plays as a female-led version of Death Wish, though Riley’s mission remains more focused. Whereas the lead in Death Wish went after a broad array of evildoers, Riley mainly concentrates on those connected to her family’s death.
This goes beyond just the direct culprits, however, as Riley holds the entire legal system responsible for the lack of justice. I guess we’re intended to root for Riley as she kills attorneys and judges, but I find it tough to applaud these situations, even if the movie attempts to cast these roles in a bad light.
I’m not averse to the “revenge thriller” genre, as films of that sort can offer a sort of cathartic charge, but something about Peppermint feels uglier and tawdrier than usual, perhaps due to its racial emphasis. While Riley does go after a few different ethnic groups, the movie mostly sends her to kill Latinos.
As I noted when I reviewed the 2018 Death Wish, that concept seems more fraught than usual given circumstances in “Trump’s America”. The sight of a white person who slays minorities always feels a bit iffy, but in the current day and age, it comes with added baggage.
Even without these social concerns, Peppermint would flop simply because it brings us nothing new. Lose the semi-novelty of the female protagonist and this turns into just another standard issue revenge tale.
Garner proves reasonably effective as Riley. Leaning back on her Alias experiences, Garner is too old to play the 35-year-old Riley, but she brings a good physical presence to the part and allows us to believe her as a violent vigilante.
Too much of Peppermint feels “by the numbers”, unfortunately, and the movie lacks originality. Despite his action background, director Pierre Morel gives us a film on cruise control, one that offers zero excitement or real drama.
While I don’t expect something totally new from a violent thriller of this sort, Peppermint still comes across as trite and cliché. The movie offers a bland, forgettable experience.