When a gang of ruthless criminals shoots the spouse and daughter of a law-abiding suburbanite, that formerly meek and mild individual becomes a lethal killing machine, determined to exact violent revenge.
The last time we saw this movie, it was the 2018 remake of “Death Wish.” Now it’s called “Peppermint.”
Oh, but “Peppermint” is different because this time it’s the WIFE who survives, not the husband. It’s the wife who goes off the grid and trains to become a steel-nerved assassin, a world-class mixed-martial artist, a cold-blooded torture artist, a makeshift medic capable of patching up deep cuts and gunshot wounds, a tech savant, a remarkably accurate and deadly sharpshooter and a weapons expert.
And in this case, she’s a legend on Skid Row, where they call her an angel, PLUS she’s a sensation on social media, with many in the public calling her a badass superhero for taking out all those scumbags.
Jennifer Garner is hardly new to the action genre, having starred as CIA operative Sydney Bristow on the TV series “Alias.” (And lest we forget, she played the title character in 2005’s “Elektra.”)
In the stylishly directed but gratuitously nasty and cliché-riddled “Peppermint,” Garner plays essentially two characters cut from the same person.
First, Garner plays the kind of role she’s done many times before: Riley North, a smart, caring, lovely and quite wonderful young woman who loves her husband, Chris (Jeff Hephner), and dotes on her impossibly adorable 10-year-old daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming).
Then, for reasons we’ll leave unsaid, three snarling henchmen acting on the orders of the L.A. drug kingpin Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba) gun down the entire family outside a Christmas carnival.
Chris and Carly are gone. Riley somehow survives a gunshot to the head, and eventually testifies against the killers — but Garcia’s tentacles extend deep into the police department AND the judicial system, so the cackling bad guys are allowed to walk without even facing trial.
Fast forward. We rejoin the Los Angeles police detectives Beltran (John Ortiz) and Carmichael (John Gallagher, Jr.), who worked that murder case five years ago. (Method Man plays another L.A. cop, Detective Barker. I wish the movie had more Method Man.)
The local police are flummoxed when the FBI (including Annie Ilonzeh’s Agent Inman) swoops in and asks their help in finding Riley North. Huh? Riley North? Why would they be interested in tracking down a victim of a crime from five years ago?
Well, because they’ve been tracking Riley’s movements around the globe for quite some time now, as she has robbed a bank and has stolen military-grade weapons, among other crimes. Why, there’s even a YouTube video of Riley kicking butt in some sort of Eastern European ultimate fighting competition.
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Now, Riley’s back in Los Angeles — and her return has coincided with the murders of various nefarious types who killed Riley’s husband and daughter and/or participated in the conspiracy to let the killers go free and protect Garcia’s regime. Could it be … RILEY is the mysterious vigilante blowing up drug labs, stringing up assassins and getting ever closer to Diego Garcia himself??
Director Pierre Morel knows how to stage the kind of cringe-inducing, pander-to-the-audience kill moments where a really, really bad guy meets a really, really excruciating death. Sure, the villains deserve it, and there’s a visceral (death) wish fulfillment in seeing this kind of street justice in the movies. It’s an easy, cheap, well-worn formula.
Tropes abound. How many times have we seen the asleep or unconscious hero seeing a dead loved one in a dream, and then the dead one tells our hero, “You need to wake up,” because if not, our hero will die? How often have we seen bad guys on a break from being bad guys drinking and playing cards in some dank back room, oblivious to the fact they’re all about to be wiped out by a lone renegade? How many times has the main villain picked up the phone or the walkie or whatever and told the antihero something like, “It ends tonight!”, ignoring the fact the anti-hero has already taken out half his team? Come on, lead villains, stop being so cocky.
Yes, “Peppermint” leaves open the possibility of a sequel. Maybe they can get M. Night Shyamalan to write and direct, and go for an upgrade in the plot.
Then they can call it “Peppermint Twist”!
STXfilms presents a film directed by Pierre Morel and written by Chad St. John. Rated R (for strong violence and language throughout). Running time: 95 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.