Directed by: Pierre Morel
Written by: Chad St. John
Starring: Jennifer Gardner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, Juan Pablo Raba, Annie Ilonzeh, Jeff Hephner, Cailey Fleming, Method Man
Review by Mia Santos
The film Peppermint is a revenge story we all have seen before in one way or another. However directed by Taken filmmaker Pierre Morel did we really expect originality? I will say this. The film kept my attention with a body count too high to keep track of and creative deaths like I would hope an action film of this calibre would. But it didn’t bring the substance in a storyline I would have liked to see backing a badass, female lead like Riley North played by Jennifer Gardner.
Peppermint opens up in a vacant parking lot with a single car, windows fogged and teetering. I’m sure your mind is supposed to wonder if something saucy is going on in there but nope! Just Riley North kicking the crap out of a gang banger! Jennifer Gardner’s return to action seems like a smooth transition for her. She can still kick ass like she did in her Alias days and she seems to be enjoying herself while doing so. During the flashbacks, which are supposed to help us understand why she’s the merciless vigilante she is today, we see a side of Jennifer we have grown accustomed to on the big screen. She is a warm, kind mother, working hard in a mediocre bank job to provide for her tiny family.
The flashbacks are warm and fuzzy with a few laughs but soon turn sour. During a family outing, Riley’s husband and daughter are gunned down by some very stereotypical members of a Latinx cartel. Similar to the likes of John Wick the story gets worse from there. After identifying the members and a crooked legal system, Riley narrowly escapes being shipped off to a mental institution. She spends five years around the world building her strength by cage fighting, collecting military grade ammunition and plotting her vengeance. When dead bodies of cartel members begin showing up around L.A. on the fifth anniversary of Riley’s family’s death the FBI and police force work together in hopes of stopping her.
Contrary to the insane amount of people who die by Riley’s hands, the film really tries to tie us to her maternal, mama-bear, emotional instincts with certain scenes. She interacts with a young boy on the bus with an alcoholic, deadbeat father she eventually follows into a beer store and threatens at gunpoint to clean up his act for his child—or else! The scene got a few chuckles but felt more hokey than anything else. Riley doesn’t say much during the film, but when she does, it’s cliché and overdone. But then again the overall writing in the film had its cringe-worthy moments.
At one point while discussing violent patterns in L.A, with Detective Stan Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.), lead FBI agent Lisa Inman (Annie Ilonzeh) utters the following line: “Everywhere she goes people get dead.” Now, English isn’t my first language, but even I know how incredibly sloppy that line is. I also didn’t appreciate the many times the male characters in this film wrote off Riley North as insane or a “crazy bitch” for wanting to avenge her family. Meanwhile, Keanu Reeve’s John Wick is respected for the same reason.
Another problematic fraction in this film for me personally was how it played up the stereotypes in Latinx culture. The big cartel boss is Diego Garcia played by Juan Pablo Raba who’s nickname around these parts is “La Guillotina” or “The Guillotine” for his signature method of killing his victims by cutting their heads off. Something we really only hear about and see happen once throughout the entire film. Instead of adding depth to this character the film keeps things black and white. He is a BAD GUY, and Riley is the scorned hero we didn’t think we needed. There is no middle ground or backstory on why or how this cartel is run.
The use of Santa Muerte to push the agenda of seedy Hispanic culture rubbed me the wrong way. She is not only a deity worshipped by criminals but by the impoverished and sick as well. One of the biggest bloodbaths also happens to take place in a piñata party store being used as a front for drug dealing where a majority of the bad guys killed are Latinx, minus the odd Korean mobster allies mixed in the body count. Of course, the sole white man working for the cartel is spared for interrogation purposes. Insert many eye rolls here.
As a Latina, I felt writer Chad St. John’s apathetic handling of these villains was slightly discriminating and only adds to Hollywood’s constant bad habit of villainizing people of colour. Considering our hero is yet another white woman, it also pushes its value of certain lives over others. Don’t get me wrong. We are in need of a leading lady protagonist with this kind of franchise. I also enjoyed seeing Jennifer Gardner in this role. I understand this genre of film needs a big celebrity to back it for the best ratings. This story could have gained more substance if the main role was played by a minority in its own right though.
Skip it. UNLESS you’re a massive action buff or looking for something fun to see on a discount Tuesday this is more a Netflix Friday night flick. Overall, it felt a little disappointing finally getting a bad-ass female lead similar to the likes of Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills or Bruce Willis’ John McClane but without the same consideration and character build. Jennifer Gardner deserves better! The title Peppermint sounds like something the filmmakers were using as a working title and didn’t bother to come up with anything better. It’s a shame. This is an appropriately rated R action movie through and through but with such a sweet treat name it risks being overlooked entirely by those who probably would appreciate this genre.