Peppermint (2018) Review
PEPPERMINT DOES NOT
In the category of the action film genre, there exist a certain style of cinematic narrative that has been proven to work…. the story of revenge. While this storyline premise / plot device has always been around and has done multiple other genres (drama, thriller, comedy, fantasy, etc.), it’s been a somewhat fan-favorite (i.e. bread and butter) of the action movie genre, spinning a tale of action, shootouts, brawls, and (sometimes) a sort of “one-man” wrecking crew as the story’s main protagonist character, who’s fighting for loss and trying to “payback” an individual / group that took something (or someone) way for him. Movies like 2004’s Man on Fire, 2009’s Crime, 2009’s Taken, 2014’s John Wick, and 2018’s Death Wish are prime examples of this narrative arc of revenge, while other films like have weave in other filmmaking elements / genres into the mix with films like 1994’s The Crow, 1997’s Spawn, and 2006’s V for Vendetta. Now, STX films (and Lakeshore Entertainment) and director Pierre Morel present the latest iteration of vigilante / revenge action storyline with the film Peppermint. Does this movie find its entertainment action in amongst its revenge story or does it flounder underneath its own bland vigilante tale?
Riley North (Jennifer Garner) is your typical women, trying to manage her work life at a struggling banker as well as trying to be a loving wife to her husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) and to her daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming). After his daughter’s birthday doesn’t go according to plan, Riley decided to lift Carly’s spirts with a spontaneous trip to the Christmas Fair for an evening of fun and ice cream. Before leaving, Chris calls his friend Mickey (Chris Johnson) and pulls out of a proposed robbery job that would’ve see him receive a sizeable payment for his assistant, but not at the cost of putting his family at risk. Unfortunately, word of Mickey’s plan spreads catches the ear of drug kingpin Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Rabla), the very same person that Mickey planned to steal from, and plans to make his move first on those who plan to double-cross him. Henchmen of Garcia’s follow the North family to the fair, gunning down both Chris and Carly in front of Riley. Due to corruption in the system (those loyal to Garcia), the potential killers are allowed to walk free, while Riley is sentenced to be placed in a psychological care ward. However, while being transported, Riley escapes and falls off “the grid” for five long years, returning to the city to exact revenge (seeking justice on her own terms) on those responsible for her family’s murders, including Garcia himself.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Being a fan of movies (in general), I’ve seeing plenty of action movies out there. Some ranging from okay to great, while others fall to the bottom of the barrel; never really finding its own identity or maybe just for the simple fact of being downright bland / poorly made. Regardless, the action genre has always been one of my fan-favorite movie genres, especially since I grew up in the 90s (the sort of “heyday” for action flicks). The revenge / vigilante story arc that’s found in the action genre is one that I usually come across in movies from time to time. As I said in the opening paragraph, it’s a great narrative plot that has proven to work, allowing the violent aesthetics of the action flicks to bring a “gritty” tale of a protagonist character who seeks revenge and right the wrongs that was brought upon him (be it physically or emotionally). Of course, the movies Taken or John Wick is the best example of this narrative being told; seeing both main characters become a “one-man” wrecking crew by taking on waves of bad guys and serving up justice in their own particular way. To me, however, my personal favorite of these types of movies is the film Man of Fire, which (to me) finds a perfect balance of action, drama, and revenger. Plus, actor Denzel Washington was perfect in the role.
Naturally, this comes back around to talking about the movie Peppermint, the latest endeavor from Hollywood to tackle the action genre of the “one-man” revenge romp. Barring a few snippets that I read online that actress Jennifer Garner was gonna be revenge action flick, I didn’t hear much about this movie on either the internet (my “go-to” movie websites) nor that much on various social media platforms. Of course, when the film’s trailer debut online, its kind of peaked my interest to see movie as I saw continued to see the trailer (many times) when I went to my local theater for my “week movie” outings). Plus, seeing Garner return to the action role also peaked my interest in seeing the film as well. However, it wasn’t enough to see it when the movie got released during its opening weekend. Thus, I decided to see other movies that I wanted to see (and review) before seeing Peppermint. So, while on one of days off from work, I decided to check out the movie and see for myself if the reviews for the movie were right or wrong. What did I think of it? Well, I found out that the critics / moviegoers were mostly right about this flick, finding Peppermint to be a bland and generic feature that doesn’t really elevate anything about it, despite Garner’s stellar and committed performance in the lead role. The movie just doesn’t live up to its own cinematic telling.
Peppermint is directed by Pierre Morel, whose previous directorial works includes films like Taken, The Gunman, and From Paris with Love. Given how much he succeed in crafting Taken (and how much it was celebrated amongst its viewers / fanbase), Morel seems like the perfect choice in trying to bring a theatrical of Riley North’s journey in Peppermint. Being an action feature, Morel makes the most of the film’s narrative by setting up a barrage of action sequences that work within the context of the story, finding the character of Riley North in a semi-apologetic look at one woman’s plight and how she takes matter into her own hands when the justice system cannot. Action is decent enough to hold its own (some scenes brutal and hard-hitting), but I think it could’ve better. Needless to say, it’s one of the film’s stronger selling points, with Morel using it to tell Riley’s revenge journey against those responsible for the loss of life Interestingly, Morel showcases the somewhat “downtrodden” of the city life, using the urban city life of which Riley returns to and makes her home within. Like some of the characters say in the movie “she’s a guardian angel”, which is an interesting way to see her character as. Even the character of Riley North herself seems like a good character study (even though her personality and development are weak, but more on that below), with her character being semi-unstable and almost suffering a PSTD type syndrome as she’s hellbent on completing her mission of tracking down Garcia and his operation ring.
In terms of technical performance / presentation, Peppermint is an adequate and (for lack of a better terminology) “by-the-book” in how the film is made. For the most part, the movie meets the somewhat industry standard for a cinematic endeavor. This includes filmmaking talents of Ramsey Avery (production designs), Lindsey McKay (costume designs), cinematography (David Lazenberg), and set decorations (Lori Mazuer). Plus, the movie’s score, which was composed by Simon Franglen is decent enough to invoke a certain of musical melodies throughout the feature….be tense action driven or quiet somber dramatic moments. Again, I’m not saying none of these areas are bad (the film certain does capture that downtrodden urban life background for the film’s setting great), but none of these areas stand particularly well. In a nutshell, its okay; neither bad nor good, which I guess is a good thing for the movie. I only thing I didn’t like was a style of cinematic editing that film uses in similar fashion to the late director Tony Scott’s features like Man on Fire and Domino. It seems like a cheap knock-off and overstays its welcome.
Unfortunately, Peppermint can’t hold its own cinematic weight and ends up more as disappointment rather than a memorable action revenge romp. The most notable one that plagues the movie would definitely have to be how generic the movie is. As I stated above, the whole revenge / vigilante story arc has been done many times before (both in TV and feature films). Thus, something new or different has to be interjected into the mix to add a new flavor to a very well-trodden narrative path. Unfortunately, Morel keeps a lot of Peppermint’s internal workings very much generic and rarely colors outside the lines of the narrative structure path. This, of course, means that the movie (from start to finish) is presented in a way that’s a “paint-by-numbers” endeavor. Even so, the movie doesn’t offer enough creative “pizzazz” than to what was already done before from other similar features. Given his filmography background, Morel simply tries to make Peppermint a sort of female iteration of Taken, portraying the character of Riley North as a “one-woman” army as she takes on thugs and other gangster in her quest for vengeance. Again, Morel’s intention is there, but he never really makes Peppermint into its own iteration (i.e. not much creative imagination or harden dramatics) and basically just feels like a cheap knock-off of Taken….and a pale intimation of one.
Even worse is the film’s screenplay, which was penned by Chad St. John. The film’s initial setup for a story is indeed palpable, finding Riley’s family gunned down and how a corrupt system of the government buries the case. There’s a certain poignancy to it all; one that can speak for a good social commentary message, especially in today’s world of how the varying systems of the government are being abused and corrupt by individuals out there. However, St. John’s screenplay (nor Morel’s direction) gives much credence to that very same commentary message, which does sort of cut the underling issue of the feature. Additionally, St. John’s script also undermines the somewhat “interment” five years that Riley North goes through. I know it’s not super ultra-important to show, but it seems like the film’s script has completely missed out on the “middle part” of Riley’s journey, which is suppose to show how she transforms herself from loving mother (who has just recently lost her husband and daughter) to ruthless / battle-hardened killer. The movie does briefly mention what she did during those five years, but it’s extremely vague and could’ve been easily expanded upon to better understand Riley’s transformation. Heck, even a five-minute montage would’ve sufficed.
Beyond that, the movie’s story, while solid and proven to work, never rises to challenge and the screenplay reflects that, finding the narrative meekly bland and predictable and following a formulaic path of vengeance and death. It also doesn’t help that the screenplay is rather clunky and doesn’t help when many of the cast members try to save them dialogue lines (i.e. more woodenly dramatic than natural). Plus, there’s a surprise “twist” that happens in the third act, but it’s a pretty lame one; one that can be seeing coming as I guess it too happened way before that particular scene arrived (I assume many will see it coming as well). Look beyond the turn of events of “wrong place, wrong time” in the movie’s first act, the rest of the feature plays out as one would expect, including small victories and setbacks and even a very generic Latino drug cartel kingpin that does little to bring anything new to the “villainy table”. Of course, the action is the “saving grace” of the feature, which the movie does have plenty, but it all feels pretty standard, with very little innovation or memorable scenes that truly make the feature set itself apart from similar endeavors. All in all, it seems that both Morel and St. John need a better (and more “meatier”) crafting ability in honing their skills when approaching a film like this, finding Peppermint just to be a run-of-the-mill piece that becomes more of chore than just wholeheartedly entertaining.
The cast in Peppermint is another problem. While they are few that many might recognizable from some of their past TV / film projects, the respective roles in the movie are mostly bland in the movie. It’s not so much that falls on their acting talents, but rather on how generically / formulaic each one is written, with very little character depth or development beyond their initial setup. Perhaps the best (and who certainly does carry the weight of the movie on her shoulder) is actress Jennifer Garner, who plays the film’s main protagonist character of Riley North. Known for her roles in Alias, 13 Going On 30, and Daredevil, Garner does fully commit to the role, giving enough nuances in her performances to make her character a “badass” persona. To me, while Garner have appeared in several comedy / drama features throughout the years (more recently of late), it’s kind of neat to see her returning to her Alias’s action roots in the movie and Garner is quite equip handle herself in the role. The problem, however, is that there’s not character substance to her, which does Riley, despite Garner’s solid performance, underserve the character as a whole. Again, the initial setup for Riley North is there, but we (the viewers) don’t see that “transform” from loving mother to cold-blooded vigilante, which does seem important piece to tell, especially when trying to define the character. Basically, the movie just doesn’t dig deep enough into Riley, presenting the character with just the base essential for motivations. Of course, her mission in the movie is something to root for and watching Garner “kick butt” and gun down bad guys left and right is fun, but (as a whole) Garner’s Riley North is a very thin protagonist.
As a side-note, actor Jeff Hephner (Chicago Fire and Chicago Med) and young actress Cailey Fleming (Better Things and Armed Response) plays the roles of Riley’s husband and daughter Chris and Carly North. As one can imagine, they are long enough in the movie develop any deep personalities (beyond their initial set-up), but both give solid performance in the limited screen-time.
As for supporting characters, the only one that really makes a lasting impression is actor John Gallagher Jr., who plays the role of Detective Stan Carmichael, police detective who gets involved with Riley’s case from the very start. Known for his roles in The Newsroom, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and The Belko Experiment, Gallagher Jr. is fine in the role as Carmichael, but there’s not much to his character beyond the standard role of a cop detective. He does what he can with what given to him (mostly with his acting talents / presence), but there’s not much to Carmichael on his initial setup. Next is actor John Ortiz (American Gangster and Silver Linings Playbook) as Carmichael’s fellow police detective partner Moises Beltran. Ortiz is probably the more “seasoned” veteran actor in Peppermint (maybe behind Garner) and it shows in the movie, but the character of Detective Beltran is merely there to bounce off banter with Gallagher Jr’s character and to help fill in the gaps at various points in the narrative. Beyond that, the character is totally bland and forgettable. Beyond Gallagher Jr. and Ortiz, actress Annie IIonzeh (Arrow and Person of Interest), who plays the character of FBI Agent Lisa Inman, is okay (acting-wise) in her performance, but her character is pretty transparent and doesn’t really elevate the character from being the stereotypical “FBI Agent” that gets dragged into Riley’s vigilante path of murders. Thus, her character is pretty forgetful and mostly just serves the narrative plot in moving it forward.
In the villain category, the role falls to actor Juan Pablo Raba to play Peppermint’s main antagonist character of drug kingpin Diego Garcia. Raba, known for his roles in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The 33, and Six, gets the role down of being a “baddie” of ruthless gang (looking and acting the part); stopping at nothing to try and takedown Riley North. However, while his acting talents are fine, the character of Garcia is just a paint-by-number cliché of a stereotypical crime boss. There’s villainy to him, but a bland one and not much else, which makes the character a somewhat predictable villain that never really like a worthy challenge for character Riley North. Basically, it’s what you would a expect from villain in a movie like this; one that has been done many times before, with the character of Garcia bringing nothing new to the table. In the end, Raba’s Garcia is just a flat villain in Peppermint; a thin caricature of a drug cartel kingpin wannabe. The rest of the cast, including actor Eddie Shin (Westworld and The Man in the High Castle) as FBI Agent Li, rapper / actor Method Man (How High and The Wire) as Narcotics Detective Barker, actor Ian Casselberry (Get Out and Keanu) as Cortez, actor Richard Cabral (End of Watch and American Crime) as Salazar, actor Johnny Ortiz (Ali and McFarland, USA) as Torres, actor Michael Mosey (Ozark and Sirens) as Henderson, actress Pell James as busybody parent Peg, and actor Jeff Harlan (Killing Regan and Falcon Crest) are weak “stock-like” supporting characters in the movie. Their acting is mostly okay-ish in each of their respective roles, but majority of these characters are merely there to drive the narrative plot forward or to just simply have one or two scenes. Thus, their limited screen-time doesn’t make them any more useful or impact to Peppermint’s story beyond a few pieces and nothing more, finding most getting lost in the picture in an otherwise “paint-by-numbers” feature endeavor.
Watching her family gunned and the justice system fail, Riley North takes matters in her own hands in the movie Peppermint. Director Pierre Morel’s latest film sees the vigilante / revenge story return to the silver screen as well as seeing actress Jennifer Garner return to her action roots. Unfortunately, while Garner’s performance is solid (carrying the weight of the feature) and with a few flourishes of action pieces as well as an initial good set-up, the movie is more of disappointment than entertaining; bogged down by a weak script, poor dialogue, uneven pacing, clunky directions, flat and uninteresting characters, and an overall predictable narrative formula. Personally, this movie totally forgetful. It had its moments and I thought Garner was great in it, but the entire movie (from start to finish) was generic and bland as they come, offering up little to a social commentary message (of which there could’ve been) or a creative entertainment value to the whole “vigilante / revenge” story arc. Thus, as you can imagine, my recommendation for this movie is hard “skip it”, even if you are a die-hard fan of Jennifer Garner (just watched her some of the old Alias episodes or even Daredevil or Elektra. In short, Peppermint just ends up being unmemorable and trying to be female iteration of Morel’s Taken and fails to do. As my review title states “Garner shines, Peppermint does not”. A perfect way to sum up the feature in its entirety.
2.3 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: September 7th, 2018
Reviewed On: September 29th, 2018
Peppermint is 101 minutes and is rated R for strong violence and language throughout