If you thought the idiosyncratic title was the mark of an idiosyncratic film, I’ve got some bad news for you: Peppermint may very well be the most uninteresting movie of the year. It’s a grating slog of an action movie that’s so chock-full of every trope and cliché in the book that it might even make your dad cackle. Imagine one of those ’80s action movies you like so much (First Blood, Die Hard, etc.), only without the personality or any semblance of style. It aspires to very little and even then misses its mark, dulling the senses instead of invigorating them, which is a shame. With a title like Peppermint, you want something new and refreshing, but this only leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
The film opens on a grizzly confrontation between an anonymous, bandana-clad thug and our heroine, Riley North (Jennifer Garner), on one of those secluded rooftop parking garages. The two duke it out in a car, choking one another and exchanging stabs, until Riley pulls out a pistol and blows the guy’s head clean off. Blood and brain matter trickle down the car window as our hero struts off into the Los Angeles morning, cuing a hallucinatory title-sequence montage that highlights the crime and grime of the city’s impoverished underworld that Riley is inexplicably a part of. “But how did she get here?” you may ask.
We then jump back in time to five years earlier where we meet up with Riley again—this time with her daughter selling Girl Scout cookies in a strip mall parking lot—adorned with all the trappings of a quaint middle-class existence. From a cringe-inducing interaction with a fellow mom, we learn of her family’s financial struggles and the apparent persecution that comes with this sort of economic malaise. Everyone in the town is out to get the North family, and when we meet up with Riley’s husband, Chris (Jeff Hephner), we learn of his plot to rip off a cartel leader named Diego “La Guillotina” Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba). After some reflection, Chris eventually makes the decision to abandon the plan, but not before “La Guillotina” finds out about the plot and decides he and his family need to die. In a slow motion sequence that recalls the best of Lifetime Movies, a trio of goons gun down Riley’s husband and daughter at a local carnival—Riley takes a shot to the head but survives, waking up in the hospital to the grim news.
Needless to say, the court proceedings don’t go as planned. The entire criminal justice system is in the pocket of Garcia, and the only wholesome lawman we can trust is Detective Stan Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.), who’s put in charge of the investigation. Carmichael’s sarcastic banter with a fellow detective (John Ortiz) marks the closest Peppermint ever comes to the movies it’s mimicking, even if it’s often hard to discern the tongue-in-cheek from the just-plain-bad—it doesn’t really matter though. The detective’s efforts are proven fruitless, however, and after a troubling trial where the gunmen walk, we jump back to the present day aware of the reasoning for Riley’s disturbed state. She’s on a path of vigilante vengeance with a moral imperative, killing those who did wrong by her and her family. At one point, a televised account of a gun store break-in reveals that Riley has stolen a good deal of weaponry, and the report makes it clear that everything she took was “military grade.” As her crime spree begins to take over the news cycle, it’s clear that the public is on her side, and many take to Twitter to express their gratification for Riley’s form of lawless justice.
Garner’s not bad in the role, but she can’t make up for the incompetence of the action filmmaking, which frankly should be the film’s selling point. Instead, it’s Peppermint’s greatest shortcoming, since most of the film’s cheeseball antics could have been excused if the action was good enough. Only, it’s not—between the blindingly quick edits and the close-up handheld shots, the fight scenes are mostly incomprehensible and unenjoyable. It doesn’t help that she’s up against the most generic of generic Mexican cartels. To give you an idea, their warehouse is filled with statues of saints, candles, skulls, and big-breasted women; you know, the usual paraphernalia.
There’s a genuine art to good action filmmaking, but that hasn’t stopped director Pierre Morel, who notably made Taken (a significantly more competent work) 10 years ago. His presence behind the camera is unfelt here. Everything is shot as plainly as possible, and there’s nothing in the film that indicates that it was made by human beings. It’s a prime example of a factory line movie, a commodity and nothing more. If you’re itching to watch some action on the big screen, I promise that you can do much better than this—Peppermint just wasn’t meant to be seen in a theatre. No, it was made to play on cable at 2:00 a.m., joining the long list of incompetent action movies that paradoxically put people to sleep.
Featured Image by STX Entertainment