PLOT A woman hunts down the men who killed her family.
CAST Jennifer Garner, John Ortiz, Juan Pablo Raba
RATED R (strong violence)
BOTTOM LINE A hugely disappointing revenge-thriller from the star of TV’s “Alias” and the director of “Taken.”
A bit of scout-troop snobbery gets the better of Riley North, a Los Angeles mom played by Jennifer Garner, in the opening minutes of “Peppermint.” After a tongue-lashing from a judgmental den-mother, Riley’s 10-year-old daughter, Carly (Cailey Fleming), suggests socking the woman in the kisser, but Riley responds as many of us would: “You can’t go around punching people who are jerks. Then you’re just as bad as they are.”
It might be true that violence never solved anything, but of course that’s why we have movies like “Peppermint.” In this revenge-thriller directed by Pierre Morel (2008's “Taken”), Riley transforms herself into a vigilante after the men who killed her husband (Jeff Hepner) and daughter are let off scot-free by a corrupt justice system. Riley is a typical hero — gender aside — whose righteous cause justifies her means. It’s a fantasy formulated to stoke our raging ids, and it has worked for many a Western, the “Death Wish” franchise and quite a few Mel Gibson movies, from “Mad Max” to “The Patriot.” In this genre, we crave just deserts, cruel irony and — let’s be honest — a satisfying twist of the knife.
None of that means much, though, if we don’t care about the characters. Neither the good guys nor the bad guys are very believable or interesting in “Peppermint,” whose perfunctory script is by Chad St. John (“London Has Fallen”). We know almost nothing about Riley, so her metamorphosis into self-taught Navy SEAL seems more silly than shocking. As for her unwise husband, it’s hard to feel sorry for an average family man who flirts with a local drug cartel and ends up getting his daughter murdered. Personally, I blamed him as much as I did Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), the kingpin who ordered the hit.
Garcia, by the way, is a stereotypical Mexican criminal with exactly the accent and mustache you’d expect, while his henchmen are the usual tattooed toughs. (John Ortiz, an actor of Puerto Rican descent, at least gets to play a cop.) Some might suspect “Peppermint” of trafficking in the current politics of racism and fear-mongering — it is, after all, the story of a grieving white woman who guns down almost no one but Hispanics — but the movie feels more lazy than hateful. In fact, the movie doesn't have much passion or emotion at all. With its bloody but bland violence, “Peppermint” fails to deliver.
REVENGE, SERVED FOUR WAYS
Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but movies like “Peppermint” tend to serve it rare — as in bloody. Here are four other revenge movies that earned their R rating:
DEATH WISH (1974) Charles Bronson plays a New York City liberal who becomes a gun-toting vigilante in this genre-defining dramatic thriller. You can skip the sequels and recent remake.
MAD MAX (1979) A post-apocalypse cop (Mel Gibson) hunts down the outlaws who killed his family. This low-budget movie with a mean streak launched one of the best action-franchises ever.
THE PUNISHER (2004) Marvel’s vengeful superhero has been brought to film at least three times, though without much success. This version, with Thomas Jane in the title role and John Travolta as the villain, truly savors its slow kills.
JOHN WICK (2014) Keanu Reeves plays a hit man who goes ape when his dog is killed by a goon. A splattery, bullet-riddled cartoon of a movie, “John Wick” proved an unlikely hit and launched a hot franchise; the third film is due next year.
— RAFER GUZMAN