October Issue 2018
Jennifer Garner returns to the big screen after a 13-year break, in what is one of the most anticipated films of 2018 – the action thriller, Peppermint. As Mrs. Riley North, Garner plays the role of an ordinary Los Angeles working mom – a bank teller trying to make ends meet with her devoted mechanic husband, Chris (Cailey Fleming). A friend of Chris propositions him to join a scheme to make easy money, but leaves out the fact that it involves ripping off Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), a vicious local drug kingpin. Despite Chris backing out of the plan at the last minute, the crime lord learns of his possible involvement and gives orders for his execution.
Garcia’s distinctly tattooed henchmen tail Chris and his family to an amusement park, where they are celebrating their daughter, Casey’s tenth birthday. As Casey is devouring her favourite peppermint flavoured ice-cream cone – hence the title – the thugs arrive. Riddling the family with bullets in a drive-by shooting, Casey and Chris are killed instantly, while Riley, who is the only witness to the brutal attack, is seriously injured.
A traumatised Riley cooperates with the detectives and identifies the gunmen in a police lineup. This is immediately followed by a visit from a mystery man at her foreclosed home. With a bribe and veiled threats, he attempts to convince her to change her testimony – which she vehemently resists. He turns out to be the lawyer for the defence and at the preliminary court hearing, he convinces the judge that Riley’s recollections and testimony are tainted by her dependence on anti-depressants. The corrupt judge rules the evidence as insufficient and concludes that the case does not need to go to trial. Riley reacts physically when the criminals are set free. She is tasered down by officers and the same judge has her committed for psychiatric evaluation.
Her disappointment with the justice system and the trauma of having witnessed the murder of her family, ignites in Riley a killer instinct. The young widow and a childless mother, chooses to act on it. While being transported to the psychiatric ward, she clubs the escorting investigator and two police officers with an oxygen tank, and escapes without a trace.
Fast forward five years and one fine morning at the same amusement park, three corpses of the distinctively tattooed gunmen are found strung upside down, high up on a Ferris wheel. It does not take long for the authorities to connect the dots. Riley has much more than the murderers on her agenda for justice. She allows herself to be seen on cameras, while social media catches on to her murderous spree. Overnight, she becomes a Twitter sensation with street graffiti portraying her as an avenging angel.
After a promising start, Peppermint’s storyline wears thin. The real crux of the plot is missing: the five years in hiding during which Riley transforms herself from a suburban Mom who discouraged her 10-year-old kid from thinking about “punching-someone’s lights out,” into a gun-toting vigilante. Only a few vague references are made of her surfacing in different parts of the world and participating in caged fist fights. No mention is made of Riley’s expertise in firepower, nor her ability to stay completely off the grid, eluding the police and the FBI alike.
Despite director Pierre Morel switching the gender of a parent wronged by a brutal gang turning into a killing machine, the story has no surprises and is much of the same old drill. The film lacks suspense as Riley fights her way into the hornet’s nest of the drug cartels.
Garner deserved a more substantive role instead of a character solely relying on heavy violence which is why Peppermint ranks among those films that critics trashed and audiences relished. The film only works because of Garner’s particular set of acting skills, for which she has won several awards in the highly popular American action thriller TV series, Alias, as CIA double agent Sydney Bristow. Riley’s character in Peppermint seemed tailor-made for Garner – perhaps as a vehicle for the actress’s return to the big screen after a long hiatus, during which she became a mother of three. A sequel would come as no surprise.
The writer is a documentary filmmaker and activist. She is working with the Newsline as editorial assistant.