I came to this film feeling rather hopeful knowing it was directed by Pierre Morel. I was a huge fan of his early directorial work, namely District 13 (2004) and Taken (2008). Having said that, these early films were made whilst the protégé of Luc Besson, the writer of both films, whom he worked closely with on a number of other projects. Morel’s work since has arguably been of a lower quality, as well as gaining reduced popularity.
Peppermint was the second film written by Chad St. John, the first being London has Fallen (2018), though he is one of 5 writers credited with the screenplay. Peppermint is one of a number of films from recent years to make action films with female leads, in this case, Jennifer Garner.
Garner (Riley North) plays a mother whose husband, Chris North (Jeff Hephner), finds himself involved in a potential robbery of a drug kingpin, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba). For this, a group of assassins is sent after them at a Christmas funfair. The assassins drive by firing automatic weapons, killing Chris and their daughter Carly North (Cailey Fleming) and injuring Riley.
The following criminal investigation fails as various police officers and Judge Stevens (Jeff Harlan) are under the employ of Garcia, thus getting the case thrown out of court. These events push the already distressed and exhausted Riley, over the edge causing her to attempt to attack the assassins in the courtroom. She is restrained by security and sent to a mental hospital, upon orders from the judge.
Riley manages to escape from the ambulance and is unheard of for nearly five years. She returns to Los Angeles for vengeance against all those responsible for failing her and her family; both those responsible for the murders and those implicit in the lack of justice.
The majority of the film follows Riley as she seeks vengeance, whilst various police agencies put together information about what she has been doing for the previous five years.
I spent the majority of the film feeling like I had seen it all before, and of course, I have. The film follows a rather linear vengeance theme, much like numerous films of the same ilk have done previously.
Comparisons can be made to many films, whether it is Death Wish (1974) where both protagonists lose loved ones and seek vengeance. Some might compare it to vengeance films with strong female leads such as The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996).
However, the reason I felt the entire time like it was a story I already knew was that it is essentially the back story of Marvel’s The Punisher, as told in the 2004 film of the same name. Like the Punisher, Riley survives an assassination attempt at a funfair during which the rest of their family is killed.
They turn vigilante and decide to take down the entire group responsible, from the assassins, everyone paid off to turn a blind eye, all the way up to the bosses. In fact, the only difference is that Riley is the mother and the Punisher is the father.
You might hope that Garner’s experience in action titles would allow for a great action experience, having spent five years in Alias, and playing the title character in Elektra (2005). She has a huge amount of experience as an actress across a number of genres.
However, like most of her work, Garner’s depiction of Riley is nothing short of dull and emotionless. Her voice is monotonous and she doesn’t endear herself to the viewer at any point. It all feels rather mechanical and stiff, but overall she is not believable as this highly emotionally distraught character.
The storyline of the whole film is entirely predictable. There are no real surprises; most viewers can quickly work out who the bent cop is. In fact, the only surprise I had watching the film was the moment Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith turns up in the film as the Narcotics Detective Barker.
Like the arrival of Detective Barker, there seems to be a number of people who appear midway through the film with little introduction, including FBI Agent Lisa Inman (Annie Ilonzeh), who suddenly joins the investigation halfway through the film.
Morel preceded his work as a director as a cinematographer and camera operator. So you might hope that if the acting is a bit lacking, it should at least look good. In fact, like a lot of movies over recent years, it spends too much time being dark, and unfortunately, by that, I don’t mean its themes, I mean its poor lighting. I found myself squinting to work out what was going on a number of times.
There is a concept that would have been interesting to investigate within the film and that was the idea that Riley’s vigilantism has caused the crime rates in the area she is living to drop to virtually nothing.
Crime is so much reduced so that she can leave her van full of automatic weapons unlocked, with no fear of it being stolen. This seemed intriguing and there were implications that Agent Inman had noticed this through the murals graffitied onto the walls in the area, like one of Riley with wings like an angel.
Instead, this is merely a throwaway comment that takes up less than 1 minute of the film like it is brushed under the carpet. I can’t help but feel this could have taken the film to another level, and instead of commenting on how it is a rehash of a number of other vengeance films, we could be discussing how it is new and fresh.