BR: Peppermint (2018)

February 5, 2019 | By

Film: Poor

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label:  Elevation Pictures (Canada) / Universal (USA)

Region: A

Released:  December 11, 2018

Genre:  Action / Revenge

Synopsis: Armed and skilled in UFC smackering, a mother returns from a European vacay to hunt and kill the drug lords who murdered her husband and daughter.

Special Features:  Audio Commentary with director Pierre Morel / Featurette: “Justice” (2:15) / Digital Copy.




Peppermint is the latest revenge thriller in which a mature actor plays a character whose family is either endangered (Taken) or dead, or whose own life is part of a larger scheme to hush an opponent permanently (The Gunman). Most of these productions seem to star Liam Neeson, but once in a while there’s an effort to create a variant, and Peppermint’s savvy casting has Jennifer Garner playing an older, angrier version of Alias’ Syndney Bristow; one can make the fanciful assumption that easygoing mom Riley North is Sydney post-40, applying her killing skills after her attempt at a normal life was cut short by a gang’s drive-by mow-down.

The script by Chad St.John (London Has Fallen) is structurally generic and derivative: when Riley’s husband (Jeff Hepner) cancels on a robbery scheme, the outraged kingpin known as The Guillotine (utterly bored Jan Pablo Rab) is set on killing Chris North to set an example. The fast-moving shooters, identified with incredible accuracy by Riley, are tried and released, which causes Riley to snap and be apprehended for incarceration in a sanitarium.

Before she’s fully slotted into the ambulance, she bonks everyone with an oxygen tank and flees, disappearing for 5 years and returning to Los Angeles angrier and deadlier – apparently her period away from America had her acquiring fighting skills in low-rent UFC matches, seen on YouTube and easily discovered by the tech-savvy LAPD.

The integration of social media within the plot feels like the work of an out of touch septuagenarian; much of the dialogue is a few inches from telling audiences what social media is all about, or a screenwriter unsure of how to work in 2018 tech habits into a revenge template borrowed from a 1986 Cannon Films B-film.

That link to Cannon and the era’s direct-to-video thrillers should’ve resulted in a film that’s part homage, part genre tribute, but Peppermint – named after Carly North’s favourite ice cream – fails to work because St. John’s dialogue is astonishingly awful; had Riley been portrayed by a lesser actress, the film would’ve collapsed. Garner’s gravitas manages to save the film from complete ruin, but unlike The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996), a similar tale of a mother who uses her skills to save her daughter from thugs, there’s no glee in watching a director, writer, and actress have fun with a ridiculous script.

Pierre Morel’s filmography is modest, but his background is almost exclusively pulp revenge films – he helmed the first Taken and Gunman for actors Neeson and Sean Penn, respectively – and he debuted with the initially dynamic but otherwise juvenile District 13 (2004) for Luc Besson. Each of these three involves gangs of crooks, subterfuge, and a hero’s attempt to expose or end a corrupted entity, but Morel’s approach to action is chopping up his shots and condensing action – ultimately destructive attempts to create a hightened sense of danger and urgency. He may be the logical and obvious choice for the bubblegummed Peppermint, but he won’t offer anything new to the genre, hence a reliance on a mature charismatic actor / actress to transcend the banal and create resonance where there’s absolutely none.

To St. John’s credit, there’s an unusually long chunk in the film’s first quarter showing the North family being loving & supportive, and revenge comes full circle when Riley doesn’t just massacre almost everyone associated with her family’s death, but terrorize the snooty suburban mom who ruined her daughter’s birthday – the lone bit of deliberate humour that works.

Carly’s ghostly appearances which help reassure and sometimes warn her emotionally battered mom is reminiscent of both the TV and feature film versions of Edge of Darkness, itself a primal revenge tale in which a father investigates the horrific death of his daughter, and grapples with grief when she reappears to advise and console. (For the record, the 1985 teleplay was a dynamic political thriller, whereas the 2010 Mel Gibson redo followed the actor’s standard screen persona of a hero who suffers intense pain until he’s reduced to shreds by the End Credits.)

Most  of the cast has little to work with, leaving Garner to carry and propel the clumsily laid scenes in which Riley tracks down, infiltrates, and murders her targets using skills atypical of UFC grudge matches. The police aren’t bright, the FBI is lame, and the drug lords are clichéd, and at 101 mins. there’s a lot of back & forth in the finale which isn’t especially rewarding, because neither St, John nor Morel push the limits of cruelty. Taken is a much leaner and meaner film, whereas Peppermint’s carnage is quick – fast headshots, stabs, and a villain who ’guillotines’ a victim once (but entirely offscreen).

The slickness and Garner’s neo-Sydney heroine will ensure curiosity among her and genre fans, but while not the worst entry among recent revenge thrillers, it’s neither good nor sufficiently trashy to excite, much in the way Law Abiding Citizen (2009) bubbles with malevolence and glee.

Elevation’s Blu-ray features an okay transfer – the bright scenes are rich in detail and sharp colours, but fades and low light scenes suffer from splotches of compression. The sound mix is pretty straightfoward, and what little of Simon Franglen’s score appears does an adequate job supporting the drama when it’s not source music.

The filmmakers may well have hoped Peppermint might ignite a franchise; had Besson been the producer and co-writer, there would be one, albeit dumber and cheaper, as occurred with the Taken sequels (or for that matter, sequels to Taxi and Crimson Rivers). Through the magic of tweets and Facebook streaming, Riley North is transformed into a folk hero (note the poster that’s derived from wall art in the film) who cleans up skid rows like Charles Bronson in Cannon’s Death Wish sequels and derivations, but if Garner’s smart, she’ll beg off a sequel.



© 2019 Mark R. Hasan





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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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