In the trailer for Peppermint, one of the characters asks what Jennifer Garner’s Riley North was doing traveling the world for five years, bouncing from place to place (paraphrasing of course). Within the context of the movie, my first thought when I heard this — she was becoming Sydney Bristow! For anyone who remembers Alias, the terrific spy series that ran on ABC from 2001-2006 and made Garner a name for herself in the industry, you’ll know that she’s more than capable of unleashing hell on her enemies and look good doing it. And though it’s great to see Garner returning to her action roots after a string of dramas, rom-coms and faith-based films, I’m not sure how I felt about her kicking tail and taking names for the sake of vengeance rather than justice.
Riley North is a loving mom with a daughter (Cailey Fleming) and a husband (Jeff Hephner). I’d add more descriptive adjectives to these characters if I could, but there’s not a whole lot to draw from, as before we even get a chance to get to know them enough to care for them as much as Riley does, they’re gunned down at a local carnival by a couple of tattooed gang members. Why? Apparently, the husband was going to go in with a friend to steal money from the cartel, led by Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), but before he can call it off, he’s killed to send a message to everyone else about what happens when you steal from Diego Garcia.
So where was Riley during the hit? Grabbing napkins from an ice-cream truck. A couple of stray rounds send her into a coma for a month, after which, she quickly identifies the men that killed her family. But with a slew of corrupt attorneys and judges, the men get off before the thugs even go to trial. This sends Riley into a tail spin of pain, frustration and anger. She disappears for five years, and when she returns, vengeance is all she has left to hold onto.
What gets me about the film is in what writer Chad St. John and director Pierre Morel choose to show us versus what they simply tell us. A good revenge thriller will allow us to see the acts of revenge the main character takes out on those who did the character harm. In this case, this would be the trio of gang members who actually shot her family, the district attorneys who didn’t fight for her, the defense attorney who tried to bribe her, and the judge who ruled against her. But within the first ten minutes of the second act, we only see her take vengeance out on two of these players. The rest are either seen after the fact or only heard about through dialogue. I especially can’t wrap my head around why they wouldn’t show her go after the defense attorney, who Morel spends several minutes on earlier in the film. This is who I wanted to see get their comeuppance, and yet, I’m still not sure if he was even a target.
Instead, the main push for the film is the attack on the entire cartel, which itself hides a lot of the intrigue in dialogue rather than utilize visuals to get your blood boiling. We’re supposed to believe that Riley has been dismantling the cartel for weeks or months prior to the events that play out in the film by surveilling them and messing with their drug shipments. I don’t know about you, but I would have liked to see a little of that! With what we’re given, this plot structure feels less like retribution than a ploy to try and make Riley look like a hero vigilante as opposed to a ruthless, vengeful killer. (To hit the point home, they have her attack a random drunk who ignores and treats his kid badly.) I don’t mind this is where they ultimately go with the film, as it was Garcia that put the hit out on her husband, I just thought this attack on him and his operations would have been secondary to everything else rather than the other way around.
This feeling probably stems from the fact that we get hardly any look into what turns Riley from grieving mother into badass mother@#%$^. What happened over those five years she was missing? Other than a quick look at her fighting in a cage match of sorts, there’s no information on how she went about training for her fight against the cartel, her mindset during this period, and her decision making process and reasoning for doing what she chooses to do. I would have accepted a short, five-minute montage to give me something of substance that would have helped me get behind her. As it is, Riley just shows up with knowledge and training that has basically turned her into a superhuman that no amount of gun shots or stab wounds can deter.
There are several other ideas that don’t quite fit into the scheme of things, or are used but not utilized properly. Firstly, Riley’s family aren’t the only characters we hardly get to know and expect to bond with. There’s an FBI agent (Annie Ilonzeh) who is propped up as being important but is ultimately wasted, and a narcotics detective (Method Man) who shows up as if all but one of his scenes were sent to the cutting room floor. More egregious are the moments that are meant to surprise and cause conflict between characters, but do nothing to heighten the drama.
One such instance is when Riley finds out that Garcia has a daughter of his own, which makes Riley second guess her decision to kill him… for about two seconds. The daughter comes out of nowhere, and once she’s gone, it’s as if she never existed. It makes the internal fight over whether Riley should take his life utterly moot, so why introduce it all? Then there’s the “twist” near the end of the film that makes absolutely no sense and I’m guessing was thrown in there because, you know, twist.
The one saving grace for the film are the action sequences. Though I’m not completely on board with some of the stylistic choices Morel makes, these sequences are well-executed and brought me back to when Garner used to do this type of thing on a weekly basis. If only the filmmakers would have explored and expanded on Riley’s reasons behind what she does and showed us more of what she does to find justice, perhaps I would have found Garner’s return to action more satisfying and enjoyable.
My Grade: B
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The Nun, the fifth film in what’s slowly becoming known as the Conjuring universe, sticks closely to traditional horror roots and tries to provide enough icing to keep you interested, but what we ultimately get is a drudge of a story that doesn’t do much but bore. B-
Next week, new movies include The Predator, A Simple Favor, White Boy Rick and Unbroken: A Path to Redemption. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.