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Saturday, September 08, 2018

Peppermint

Peppermint is a sleazy and scuzzy little piece of audience manipulation starring the usually likable Jennifer Garner as a mom who witnesses her husband and young daughter get gunned down in a drive-by-shooting, and takes revenge on the people responsible.  It's a simple-minded work that never once stops to ask the obvious ethical questions, and instead just plows right ahead into sensationalist violence.  How out of touch is this movie?  It doesn't even slow down long enough to explain its own title.  I mean, yes, her daughter is eating peppermint ice cream when she is shot, but this fact never comes across as significant enough to serve as the title of the film.

Not only is the movie nasty, it's also sloppy.  There are random moments of the movie where the editing suddenly goes haywire for absolutely no reason, and when nothing of interest is happening.  Garner will be sitting on a bus, and all of a sudden, the camera will start shaking.  Why?  There also seems to be large chunks of the plot missing.  After the husband and daughter are shot down, the movie speeds through the details of Garner's character getting an unfair trial (the Judge is paid off, and lets the killers go), and going on the run.  The movie then cuts to 5 years later, where she has become a full-fledged vigilante who is somewhat of a hero on social media, and to a community of homeless people.  None of this is explained in the slightest.  We don't get to see how she went from being a soccer mom to a hardened killer who participates in illegal cage fights to hone her skills.  We don't even get to see her actually take vengeance on the three people who were responsible for the murder of her family.  It happens mostly off camera, aside from a brief glimpse of her getting back at one of the thugs during the film's opening scene.  She spends the rest of the movie going after the violent drug dealer, Diego (Juan Pablo Raba), who was their boss.

Garner plays Riley North, a woman who is solely driven by vengeance for her kid (Cailey Fleming), who appears to her as a ghost now and then to encourage her on her bloody revenge.  Oddly, she doesn't seem to care all that much that her husband was gunned down as well.  It's not until a scene almost at the end of the film that she even mentions him.  Riley's husband, Chris (Jeff Hephner), was actually being talked to by a friend at work into a job where they would rob Diego the drug boss.  Chris declined, wanting to spend the night with the family for his daughter's birthday, but this did not stop Diego from ordering a hit on Chris when he found out about it.  After the hit, Riley cooperated with the law, until she found out Diego's influence pretty much spread to every corner of the justice system, and she was not going to get any help.  So, she went off the grid, and is now back as a heavily-trained assassin who can rig explosives and murder with her bare hands with ease.  Again, this transformation is never explained or shown to us, which makes it feel like we missed out on the most interesting part of the movie.

Pursuing Riley are two police detectives, Carmichael (John Gallagher, Jr.) and Beltran (John Ortiz), who were involved with her case five years ago, and an FBI agent (Annie Ilonzeh), who is brought on the job.  All three of these characters come equipped with dialogue that sounds like it came from watching a marathon of crime dramas, and then the screenwriter did their best to remember the gist of what they heard.  There's not a single word these people say that sounds honest or authentic.  They talk strictly in the cliches of the genre.  These characters do nothing to stand out, aside from the fact that the one from the FBI has one of the strangest character introductions I've seen in a long time.  She's sitting at her desk, and there's an obnoxious singing Santa Claus toy (yes, the movie is set at Christmas) near her work station bothering her, so she throws something at it.  This tells us nothing about her, and it has nothing to do with anything.  It just happens, and we're left scratching our heads.

As for Garner, I understand that this is a chance for her to get back to her action film roots that launched her career, and I'm sure it's the main reason why she took this project in the first place.  But why did she pick this one in particular?  Was it really the best thing being offered to her?  The movie never allows her to become a real character.  We don't know how she feels personally about her own actions.  Is she somewhat horrified by what she's doing?  Does she sometimes miss her old domestic life?  These are the sort of questions a better script would have not been afraid to ask.  Instead, she's treated as a soulless individual with no real thoughts or complex feelings.  There are moments that hint at a deeper character, such as when she finds out the drug dealer has a daughter of his own right when she's about to kill him the first time.  She hesitates, which leads to the dealer to escape.  Fortunately for her, the movie forgets about the daughter as soon as she's introduced, so Garner has no problem doing horrible things to him from that point on.

Peppermint gave me no joy or release like a truly great action film can.  It simply revels in violence, and manipulates the audience from beginning to end without a single thought.  That's what bothered me the most - There was simply no thought put into this, and it shows.

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