[Screen It]

"PEPPERMINT"
(2018) (Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr.) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A woman becomes a vigilante to get revenge on those responsible for and complicit with the murder of her husband and daughter.
PLOT:
While she might not have a lot of money, Los Angeles area bank employee Riley North (JENNIFER GARNER) is happily married to Chris (JEFF HEPHNER) and the proud mother of young daughter Carly (CAILEY FLEMING). Unbeknownst to her, Chris nearly took some sort of one-time driving job for a friend who works for notorious drug kingpin Diego Garcia (JUAN PABLO RABA) but then decided not to. Unfortunately for him, that friend stole some money from the criminal and thus ended up dead, with Garcia also putting out the hit order on Chris and his family. And that comes on their night out celebrating Carly's birthday where three thugs do a drive-by shooting that kills Chris and Carly and leaves Riley in a medically induced coma after taking a bullet to the brain.

A month later, she's able to identify those three men in a police lineup, but detectives Stan Carmichael (JOHN GALLAGHER JR.) and Moises Beltran (JOHN ORTIZ) realize it will be an uphill battle to get any sort of conviction, what with how feared and connected Garcia is in the area. The obviously corrupt judge doesn't even let the murder case go to trial, the suspects walk free, and Riley ends up disappearing.

Five years later, however, a number of people related to that case -- including the three gunmen -- end up dead, thus arousing the suspicions of the detectives as well as FBI Agent Lisa Inman (ANNIE ILONZEH) who all start working the case. They eventually realize that Riley has turned into a well-trained and well-armed vigilante who will stop at nothing on her path of killing everyone responsible for and complicit with the murder of her husband and daughter, including the drug kingpin himself.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
When it comes to having loved ones wronged by someone else, particularly when that involves the loss of life, people respond in various ways. Some go into complete emotional withdrawal and essentially become nearly comatose or zombie-like in their interactions with the rest of the world.

Others somehow manage to find it in themselves to forgive the guilty party, which is obviously the healthiest but most difficult response. And then some seek out the old "eye for an eye" sort of retribution and take the law into their own hands, which might make them feel "better" in the short term, but rarely turns out best for anyone.

If one is going to make a movie about such a survivor of this type of tragedy and injustice, the withdrawn character type is hard to turn into a movie that people want to see. Yes, it's been done before and sometimes is executed quite well, but most viewers really aren't that interested in such flicks as they're typically of the "Debbie Downer" variety.

The second type -- the forgiver -- certainly provides for plenty of dramatic potential as the character can transform into that from either the initially withdrawn or revenge-minded status and thus show plenty of character growth in what likely would be considered an uplifting picture.

But it's the third where most storytellers and filmmakers tread simply because it's the most cinematic in terms of plotting and action, as well as one where viewers get a cathartic release watching the bad guys get the heavy duty karma treatment.

For every depressed or forgiveness related film revolving around such matters, there are probably dozens if not hundreds of revenge based tales, some of them operating in pure vigilante mode. Following in the footsteps of Charles Bronson in "Death Wish" and Keanu Reeves in "John Wick" (among many others), we now have Jennifer Garner in "Peppermint."

Granted, that title doesn't exactly signal R-rated, violent comeuppance (as compared to say, "Kill Bill") and it's been a while since the "what's in your wallet" spokesperson played the lead in an action pic (if memory serves correctly, it's been thirteen years since she appeared in "Elektra"). Nonetheless, I was willing to give the film a chance mainly because, well, there aren't many female-led vigilante offerings.

The story -- from the fingers of Chad St. John -- is fairly straightforward. Garner is a bank employee in Los Angeles who, like her auto mechanic husband (Jeff Hephner), is trying to earn a few extra dollars so that they can do a little extra doting on their young daughter (Cailey Fleming). But the hubby has contemplated taking a one-time but high paying job for a notorious drug kingpin (Juan Pablo Raba) that he ultimately turns down. But his buddy who was trying to arrange that stole from the criminal, ended up dead, and his association with Jeff means a drive-by shooting is in order.

A month or so after coming out of a medically induced coma from one of the bullets that ended up in her brain -- the rest ended the lives of her husband and daughter -- our shell-shocked protagonist identifies the perps. But the judge overseeing the preliminary court proceedings is corrupt, the case is dismissed, and the seeds for vigilantism are planted.

Five years later, the three shooters are found dead, and with other bodies starting to pile up, two detectives (John Gallagher Jr. and John Ortiz) and one FBI agent (Annie Ilonzeh) start working the case and quickly realize it's Riley. But they never really contemplate how she somehow transformed herself from standard suburban mom into a highly trained assassin who puts both the Energizer bunny and any old "takes a licking and keeps on ticking" Timex watch to shame.

Alas, while Garner is decent back in kick-butt mode, the film's action moments (and everything else for that matter as directed by Pierre Morel) are bland rather than exciting. And it doesn't help that certain parts are so hard to believe -- including how this average-sized woman managed to hoist three full-sized male bodies way up onto a Ferris Wheel and hang them by their feet -- that they take you out of the moment and thus pretty much rob the movie of delivering the sort of cathartic experience people who go to these sorts of flicks are looking for.

In short, the film does nothing to elevate or even differentiate the material above its rote and recycled elements seen in previous vigilante offerings. Unlike its namesake flavor, this "Peppermint" is neither fresh nor cool. Accordingly, it rates as just a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 6, 2018 / Posted September 7, 2018


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