Starring: Jennifer Garner, John Ortiz, John Gallagher Jr., Juan Pablo Raba, Annie Ilonzeh
Director: Pierre Morel
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Rating: R for Wanton Lethal Violence
Release Date: September 7, 2018
Early on in Peppermint, Riley North (Jennifer Garner) tells her young daughter that she cannot just go around punching everyone who treats her poorly. It sounds like the sort of lesson that will undergird the whole film. But then Riley decides to completely act against her own advice. To be fair, there is a massive difference in scale at play here. Daughter is upset about a territorial dispute involving Girl Scout cookies, whereas Mom is seeking vengeance against the drug cartel that murdered her little girl and husband. As satisfying as it may be to dispatch people who have committed heinous crimes, responding in kind with violence tends to have unintended consequences and perpetuate a cycle of violence. Peppermint even acknowledges this dilemma, at least momentarily, but then opts to just ignore it.
I don’t want to condemn for Peppermint for advocating for righteous vigilante gun violence. Indeed, I think it is a mark of intellectual health to be able to enjoy explicit violence on screen while understanding it is much less frequently (if ever) justified in real life. But Peppermint makes that reckoning a little difficult by being so slavishly in thrall to its avenging angel. I genuinely worry that this film could be dangerously influential. I normally wouldn’t be so concerned, but the apparent rejection of a sound moral lesson makes this an unusual case.
Ultimately, I believe (or at least hope) that most viewers can understand that this is wish fulfillment of the highest order. Therefore, if Peppermint can establish its action bona fides, then it might actually earn a passing grade. Garner is certainly game, perhaps raring to go hard for a role like this ever since Alias ended 12 years ago. Director Pierre Morel (basically gender-flipping his most famous credit, Taken) keeps the pacing propulsive, but the overall arc is too by-the-numbers, while Riley is too invincible. It’s the kind of affair designed to get you cheering in the moment and not to get you thinking at all afterward.
Peppermint is Recommended If You Like: Death Wish, Taken, Zero consequences
Grade: 2 out of 5 Shotgun Blasts