There’s an admonition about not poking a bear – which means poking a mama bear whose mate and cub you’ve just killed might be a much worse idea.
When Riley North’s (Jennifer Garner) husband (Jeff Hephner, Chicago Med, Chicago Fire) and daughter (Cailey Fleming, Better Things, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) are killed in an apparent drive-by – and she’s put into a month-long coma, her world is, for all intents and purposes, destroyed.
Then, despite her testimony as an eyewitness, the killers are allowed to walk free (following a visit to the North home by a slick guy who turns out to be their lawyer), she goes of the grid for five years and almost literally turns herself into a warrior machine.
Peppermint’s title comes from Riley’s daughter Carly’s favorite ice cream – which we learn during flashbacks that show us what happened – but not Riley’s actual training (though there is a fuzzy YouTube video of her winning a brutal Muy Thai/MMA bout in Europe that shows some of what she’s learned).
The film opens with a classic car rocking as though there’s something libidinous going on – but as the camera closes on the driver’s side window, we see that it’s a woman beating a much-tattooed Hispanic man.
‘Remember me?’ she asks – before putting a bullet through his brain.
We flash back to Riley and Carly being thrown some serious shade by a mean-girl mom, Peg (Pell James), and her daughter before she drops Carly off with her father, Chris, and heading to the bank where she works (and where she’s made to close up).
When she gets home, she discovers that Carly’s party was a bust – Peg’s daughter had a party and all Carly’s friends went to that one.
So, Riley and Chris take Carly out for the night of her life – pizza, the fair (all the rides and all the games – and to close, ice cream!). It’s just after that that the drive-by that isn’t a drive-by happens – on the orders of drug lord Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba, Narcos, Six).
From there the film moves briskly through more illuminating flashbacks and savage action in the present.
Written by Chad St. John (London Has Fallen) and directed by Pierre Morel (Taken, District B13), Peppermint is pretty much a unique taken on well-worn action/revenge movie tropes.
We’ve seen a lot of revenge films with male protagonists and even a few with female leads (Columbiana springs to mind immediately) – but I can’t recall one where the female lead was a wife and mother and her family was killed.
As Riley tracks and kills the crooked cops, DA and judge who let her family’s killers walk, we meet a number of police detectives (John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, Annie Ilonzah and Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith) who are pulled into trying to catch this serial killing soccer mom.
As they learn more about her, we learn more about her.
Morel moves Peppermint at a brisk enough pace that the film’s plotholes aren’t really apparent at first glance – though St. John’s script is, for the most part more intelligent than you might expect.
It’s been a long time since Garner played Alias’ Sydney Bristow, but she looks very good here – and did practically all her own stunts/action sequences. She gives what could have been a rote revenge movie a big heart amidst all the carnage.
As a result, Peppermint is a cut about the average – a pretty hefty cut.
Final Grade: A-