What follows is an extended version of a review I originally wrote for Punch Drunk Movies. Music-obsessive that I am, I call these longer versions my 12-inch mix.
I have no interest spending any more time than I have to on “Peppermint,” a movie so straight-faced and lazy in its use of vigilante movie clichés that it almost feels like a parody. Almost. It’s way too stupid to pull that off. Plain and simple: “Peppermint” is garbage.
Riley North (Jennifer Garner) is an everyday mom, raising her young daughter, Carly (Cailey Fleming), with her mechanic husband, Chris (Jeff Hephner). Struggling to make ends meet, Chris agrees to a friend’s harebrained (and barely explained) scheme to rip-off a local drug lord whose name, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), is straight out of some perverted “Generic Screenwriting for Dummies” manual. Chris backs out of the plan, but Diego, having gotten wind of it anyway (how is not explained. Sense a pattern here?), makes an example out of Chris, having him and his family gunned down. But Riley survives.
After our legal system fails to mete out justice–apparently, everybody from judges to district attorneys are on Diego’s payroll–Riley steals 50 grand from the bank she works for, drops off the grid, and reemerges on the fifth anniversary of her family’s murder as a jacked-up killing machine to extract revenge. In the process, she unexpectedly becomes a vigilante protector of L.A.’s Skid Row.
Most of that “Skid-Row-Protector” angle happens off camera. Actually, it’s amazing how much of this movie happens off camera. Riley stealing the money from her bank? Don’t see it. Riley’s five-year transformation into The Punisher? Don’t see it (hilariously, it’s whittled down to a Youtube video showing her getting pummeled in a Thai boxing ring). Her plan to frame Diego, making him a target for the Mexican Cartel? Don’t see it. Even her initial revenge against the actual shooters, except one, takes place off screen.
All of these major events are related to us in expository info dumps, rushing past the details, I’m assuming, to get to the “good stuff,” the action. Somehow, still, the first lengthy action sequence doesn’t pop up until 50 interminable minutes into the movie. And when it does, it’s underwhelming. The action is competently staged but uninspired: faceless enemies running into Riley’s gunfire. Never has a movie rushed more to get to so little.
“Peppermint” was directed by Pierre Morel, a byproduct of Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp, a production company responsible for low-brow, trashy genre pics (Naturally, I try to catch all of their movies). After his debut with the action mini-masterpiece “District B13,” his filmography devolved. And now, following “Taken” and “From Paris with Love,” we have a third movie of his portraying a white person killing specific ethnicities, Albanians in the former, Pakistani the latter, and Mexicans and Koreans in “Peppermint.” It’s stomach churning.
Writer Chad St. John, meanwhile, clearly shopped for his characterizations, a term I use charitably, at “Stereotypes R Us.” How else to explain Diego Garcia (who, instead of an intimidating presence, is mostly notable for… um, his fine mustache) and his crew? He and his lackeys are nothing more than a lazy writer’s idea of “street,” prone to dialogue sprinkled with “esé” and “homes.” Sometimes they just drop lines like, “If the bitch wants the muthaf*ckin’ lab, I’m gonna give the bitch the muthaf*ckin’ lab.” Lyrical, isn’t it?
Am I just overthinking a simple action movie? Maybe. An uncomplicated revenge story has its appeal, with clear good guys, clear bad guys, and the bad guys getting their comeuppance in the end. But I’m tired of movies where violence is a clean and easy solution to everything, where the hero’s rampage in no way hurts anybody but the bad guys. In an absurd sequence, a child on a bus randomly tells Riley that his father, hungover in the seat next to him, is a drunk. Riley follows the man into a liquor store, beats him up, puts a gun in his mouth and makes him promise he won’t drink anymore. Worse, the movie acts like she’s accomplished something. She hasn’t. Alcoholism is a disease. You don’t beat a disease by threatening to shoot it. The movie’s selling us rotten goods. And when rotten goods are made as listlessly and stupid as “Peppermint,” it’s more than I can take.
Though, sometimes, the movie’s stupidity can be entertaining. After surviving an explosion (at the “muthaf*ckin’ lab”), Riley follows the goons who tried to blow her up. She’s driving directly behind them, on a small two-lane road, the only other car on an otherwise deserted blacktop. One of the goons looks in the rearview mirror, sees the car swerving, riding his bumper like a madman and calmly asks, “Is somebody following us?”
Lacking wit or an ounce of self-awareness, “Peppermint” is a miscreant of a movie. A movie so stupid its title is derived (as far as I can tell. It was difficult to keep my brain engaged) from the ice cream Carly is having before getting shot. And when the inevitable sequel (“Wintergreen”?) comes out, I’ll stay as far away from it as possible. My recommendation? Stay away from this dumpster fire so that sequel doesn’t actually happen.