Peppermint, the new vigilante revenge thriller starring Jennifer Garner, would be totally reprehensible and offensive, were it not so horribly incompetent. I was too busy laughing at the screen to get angry.
A movie for the sort of people who came out of Breaking Bad believing Walter White was a hero, Peppermint does almost everything wrong, and makes just about every moment ring false. Somehow, the year’s second remake of Death Wish is even worst than the first.
Directed by Taken’s Pierre Morel from a very alt-righty script by Chad St. John, Peppermint is a high-concept, distaff Death Wish. Garner plays Riley North, a suburban mom in Los Angeles with a husband and young daughter. When her husband thinks about—but doesn’t go through with—taking part in a robbery of Mexican drug dealers, the dealers retaliate by gunning down both the husband and daughter.
After a coma, and a sham trial in which a corrupt judge and lawyers let the killers off, Riley disappears. Then five years later, she comes back to L.A., with guns and military-grade fighting training of mysterious origin, and starts killing. First those responsible for the murders, and then virtually the entire criminal underworld in the city of Los Angeles. I think Garner kills more people in Peppermint than any serial killer in history.
It’s not enough for her to emerge as a social media folk hero—this was a subplot in the recent Bruce Willis Death Wish movie too—but Peppermint goes even further over the top, treating its vigilante mass murderer protagonist with near-religious reverence. If there’s any downside to vigilantism, this film isn’t the slightest bit interested in exploring it.
For the film’s plot to work, the gang members must be fearsome and intimidating. Peppermint’s gangsters, by contrast, are bumbling idiots who spend the entire movie as outsmarted cannon fodder, while their dialogue is pathetic (consisting mostly of their latest plans to go and kill “that bitch”).
The film doesn’t give us many answers to how, exactly, Riley turned herself into a killing machine, but even that’s not as inexplicable as the laughable miscasting of John Gallagher, Jr. as a grizzled cop. There’s the decision to shoot just about every crime scene on what’s clearly the same street, and its resurrection of that old 1990s trope in which a female character is introduced, with the express purpose of briefly being held hostage at the end. And then Garner’s execution of a couple of small criminal crews somehow leads to… the complete elimination of all crime in Los Angeles.
Why does a secretly corrupt cop agree to appear in public with his criminal accomplices? Why do cops show up at a crime scene, see a dead cop on the ground whom they know, and not react in any way?
Even worse, Peppermint embraces MAGA politics without understanding anything about them. Garner is depicted as totally without friends or allies, but she’s also an attractive white woman whose family was murdered by Mexican gang members. In real life, she’d be a household name, and Tucker Carlson would devote weeks of Fox News shows to thinly-veiled racist commentary about the case. Real-life Riley would be too busy making campaign appearances with GOP candidates to murder anyone.
This film was almost enough to make me miss the reactionary politics of 2015, when the knee-jerk position was that law enforcement could do no wrong and deserved the benefit of the doubt in every situation. In 2018, we’ve cycled back around to “The cops can’t be trusted, don’t even get me started on the FBI, so get a bunch of guns and mow down the bad guys yourself.”