In yet another “Death Wish” update teaching the valuable lesson that violence is the answer, “Peppermint” presents Jennifer Garner as Riley North, a Los Angeles woman who seeks revenge after her husband (Jeff Hephner) and little girl (Cailey Fleming) are killed by Mexican gangbangers. To prove the point, Riley and the girl have a scene early on where li’l Carly tells Mom she should have punched this mean other mom who was rude to her, and Riley says no, that’s not the way to live your life. The rest of the movie is Riley deciding that Carly was right and she should have punched that bitch. Oh, and it’s a Christmas movie, like “Die Hard.”
Most of it unfolds on Dec. 21, 2017, the five-year anniversary of Riley’s tragic loss. She’s been off the grid, learning how to fight and kill, ever since the corrupt legal system let the murderers go. Now she has reemerged, single-handedly reducing crime in the Skid Row district for a few months while waiting for Dec. 21 to arrive, as choosing just any random day to kill the men who killed her family would be tacky.
The choice of dates is the only stylistic touch to Riley’s methods. She’s otherwise a generically skilled and efficient assassin, dispatching the three actual murderers — plus the corrupt judge, D.A., and defense attorney — before the movie’s 40-minute mark, with hardly any panache or flair. I mean, she nails the judge’s hands to his dining room table before blowing up his house, but that’s it. She then moves on to wiping out the entire drug operation that spawned the gang, including its leader, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), pausing only briefly to threaten a drunk, negligent stranger into sobriety for the sake of his son.
Riley’s spree catches the attention of LAPD detectives Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.) and Beltran (John Ortiz), and of the FBI, in the person of Agent Inman (Annie Ilonzeh). Meanwhile, social media lights up with praise for the vigilante who’s cleanin’ up the streets. Before the sun goes down, it’s common knowledge that all of today’s killings were the work of one person, and everyone in L.A. knows Riley North’s name and face.
The film was directed by Pierre Morel, who made “Taken,” but the lazy, unimaginative screenplay is by Chad St. John, who had a hand in writing “London Has Fallen.” Garner has lost the action mojo she had on TV’s “Alias” (which I regret to inform you ended 12 years ago), coming across as a lightweight play-acting at toughness. Nothing Riley does is cathartic for her or the viewer; it’s slaughter for its own sake. She’s good at what she does, but her work isn’t very interesting to watch.
P.S. The title presumably comes from the flavor of ice cream that li’l Carly orders at the Christmas carnival before she and her daddy are gunned down in the street. But it’s never mentioned or referenced again, and Dad got ice cream, too, and the movie isn’t named after his flavor. Anyway: “Peppermint,” ladies and gentlemen. “Peppermint.”
C (1 hr., 41 min.; )