Film Review: PeppermintOpening on the heels of the lackluster Bruce Willis/Eli Roth remake of 'Death Wish,' this distaff revenge thriller has nothing new to say about vigilante justice.
Riley North (Jessica Garner) is just your ordinary, overscheduled, middle-class mom: She has a loving husband (Jeff Hephner), an angelic little girl, Carly (Cailey Fleming), and a job that keeps her perpetually on the wrong side of harried. Of course, the Norths have financial worries and Riley’s managed to get herself on the wrong side of bitchy queen-bee Peg (Pell James), who retaliates by insidiously ruining poor Carly’s birthday...and it’s almost Christmas. Where’s the good will? But an impromptu trip to the local carnival should fix things right up—as long as they’re together, everything will be all right. Except, of course, for that ominous car full of gangbangers lurking down the street, the ones who open fire on the North family, killing Chris and Carly and putting Riley in the hospital. And even though she’s an eyewitness and bravely identifies her family’s murderers in a courtroom, the collusion of a sleazy lawyer and a corrupt judge sets them loose.
Cut to five years later, years the broken Riley has spent in Hong Kong—Where life is cheap? Why Hong Kong?—transforming herself into a lean, mean vengeance machine. And now she’s back home, living off the grid in a van on skid row and dedicated to washing all the scum off the streets.
Peppermint appears to have been driven by the notion that audiences bored with macho men out to get justice for themselves and/or their loved ones when the big, bad system fails them will be all over the novel idea of a female punisher, an idea that of course isn’t so novel at all. From Sudden Death (1985) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978, remade in 2010) to Abel Ferrara’s iconic Ms. 45 (1981), Park Chan-Wook’s 2005 Lady Vengeance and, of course, Kill Bill (2003-2004), avenging angels have been, if not a staple, then a longstanding variation on the theme of women out to right their little corners of the world’s wrongs.
The trouble is that Peppermint is too cautious for its own good, careful to keep Riley above her own bloody fray—she even gets to see herself depicted on a graffiti mural, angel wings spread. Sure, she’s hanging corpses from the spokes of a Ferris wheel (a terrific image held long enough that its fundamental preposterousness undermines the effect), but she hasn’t gone blood simple. There’s a lack of ferocity to the movie’s mayhem, a sense that it won’t go that extra yard and risk suggesting that however sympathetic Riley’s motives are, she’s crossing a line—not just a legal one, but a moral one.
That would be a downer, of course, but it’s what separates lazy, paint-by-numbers romps from memorable thrillers. Peppermint is a bloody crowd-pleaser, but it’s fundamentally forgettable, the kind of movie whose details begin to disappear the moment the credits roll.