If we needed any proof that the methodology of Hollywood’s “Extreme Makeover: Gender Edition” is broken, Peppermint might be just the thing. An extremely fusty vengeance tale from the director of Taken with a raging bloodlust for tattooed brown men, Peppermint has no surprises up its sleeve, and casting Jennifer Garner as the put-upon housewife turned gun-toting vigilante doesn’t change that. If anything, changing one element of the formula does more to expose its dullness than the same movie starring Liam Neeson.
Garner stars as a lady named Riley North, an L.A.-dwelling middle class mom whose husband’s brief dalliance with a plot to rob a drug kingpin ends with him and their young daughter getting mowed down in the street. (Did you honestly think they would live? Maybe you should go see Peppermint; it might be more fun for you than it was for me.) Riley identifies the killers, but the Los Angeles judicial system, crooked as the day is long and notorious for letting minority gang members walk, dismisses her testimony and sends her to a psych ward. En route, Riley breaks free and escapes, going underground, training in cage matches, and stealing a bunch of firearms in preparation for her grand revenge. (She does not change her name to Peppermint; the film is apparently named after the flavor of ice cream Riley’s daughter is eating when she is murdered. Sure?)
Five years later, she returns to L.A. and begins taking out everyone who wronged her: the shooters, the lawyers, the judge. Two detectives (John Ortiz and John Gallagher Jr., lost behind an enormous mustache) and an FBI agent (Annie Ilonzeh) track the killings, but it’s not like this is some scintillating mystery; it’s pretty obvious who has the motive here. So they … basically … just … watch … as her body count rises, kind of questioning whether to charge her or if her folk-hero mission is actually on the right side of justice, but not worrying about it too much.
Again, Peppermint could have as easily been made in 1988 as 2018. There’s a weird, glued-on insistence on making “social media reactions” to Riley’s vendetta a driving force of the plot, but it feels more like a quick way to prove that the script was written sometime in the last decade. Its specific “kill the animals” rage against MS-13 style gangsters is unfortunately the only thing that makes it timely at all. Garner (and her impressively jacked arms) are obviously all in here, and there’s a crazy, glazed quality to her eyes in the more extreme moments of violence that is genuinely chilling at times — not because of anything having to do with the story or the character, but because it’s hard to figure out what is worth committing to in this material. There was a time when a woman being the star of her own bad action franchise could have been considered the apex of progress, but that time is past.