Film Review: Peppermint

An attempt at a vaguely feminist rethink of Taken, this ultra-violent, somewhat fascist action drama shares the same director (Pierre Morel) but a much less clearly defined and rather queasy moral edge.

Formidable star Jennifer Garner takes it seriously and is pretty good, and yet this is less about saving your family from a bunch of bad guys and more about the nastiest vengeance. It might well be the sort of thing we don’t usually see women do in mainstream American movies, but it’s a deliberately uncomfortable experience, although some audience members will surely be whooping for blood.

Garner’s Riley North is an LA banker struggling with her finances and devoted to her gormless mechanic husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) and winsome 10 year old daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming). On the day of Carly’s birthday there’s a vague conversation between Chris and one of his idiot friends about robbing feared drug lord Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), and even the suggestion of this leads several of Diego’s goons to gun down the Norths when they’re out celebrating. At the very last minute Carly asks for peppermint ice cream, which gives the film its title, so it’s a good thing her last snack wasn’t, say, a Subway footlong.

Riley is the only survivor, and she’s nearly bribed and then identifies her attackers in court, but they of course get found innocent because everyone is corrupt and in with Diego’s empire (ie. the whole damn system is out of order). She escapes on her way to a psychiatric institution and, five years later, is found to be the one behind a series of brutal payback slayings, stabbings and shootings, as well as the hugely unlikely blowing-up of a sneering judge.

Oh-so-nice Detective Stan Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr) is on her side and tries to track her down, and there’s a somewhat transparent attempt to make the other sympathetic cops on her trail ethnically diverse in order to offset the racism of having a white lady murdering what are mainly an endless stream of Latinos. She also becomes a social media star and mass debate rages about whether she should be pardoned, but first they have to catch her, which takes quite a long time because every law enforcement officer here is more than a little dim.

Garner’s former role as assassin Elektra is evoked, as well as some of the old Taken spirit, but in that film Liam Neeson grimly took on the baddies to save his daughter while Riley’s offspring is dead, meaning that this bereaved Mommy dispatches over 40 guys simply for revenge. And maybe fun?

But remember kids: violence is not the answer. Even when Jennifer Garner does it.

Peppermint (MA) is in cinemas from December 13

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