Given the abundance of vigilante heroines on the big screen recently, Peppermint feels considerably more familiar than fresh.
However, this ultraviolent cat-and-mouse thriller gives Jennifer Garner a turn mowing down bad guys in ways that traditionally have been reserved for men. So that’s something.
Garner plays Riley, a Los Angeles banker who survives a drive-by shooting that killed her husband (Jeff Hephner) and young daughter — on the girl’s birthday, no less. Despite the arrests of multiple suspects, the justice system fails her.
Riley retreats into hiding, only to return five years later as a changed woman. Now equipped with extreme mental cunning and physical resilience, she’s focused on gaining guerrilla-style revenge at any cost, not only on the gang members responsible for the murders (they mistakenly assumed her husband was working for a rival drug cartel), but also on the corrupt cops and judges who refused to help her.
As she kills swiftly and nonchalantly with a combination of weapons and her own two hands, Riley must elude police capture and preserve her own health while hunting her targets. Meanwhile, she gains attention as a folk hero of sorts for the disenfranchised.
Typically, revenge films of this sort are divided into three basic segments — the crime is committed that prompts the vengeance, the grieving hero plans or trains for the vengeance as a coping mechanism, and said vengeance is carried out against the perpetrators of the original crime.
This predictable effort essentially bypasses the middle part, yet doesn’t sacrifice too much credibility mostly due to Garner’s charisma and toughness in selling her character’s transformation.
French director Pierre Morel (Taken) employs slow motion and other visual gimmickry in an effort to cover for the logical gaps in the story, and the half-hearted attention to the moral complexity and social relevance in Riley’s quest for justice.
Instead, as the uninspired screenplay builds toward the inevitable final showdown between Riley and the nondescript villains, it becomes tedious and repetitive when it should be at its most suspenseful.
Along the way, several of the confrontations literally pack a punch, physically but not emotionally. Peppermint lacks both sugar and spice, and leaves a bad taste.