By LINDSEY BAHR, AP Film Writer
The insane revenge movie “Peppermint ” starts to make a lot more sense when you realize that it was directed by the man who brought us “Taken” (Pierre Morel) and written by one at least partially responsible for “London Has Fallen” (Chad St. John). It’s a movie in which the central character, Riley North (Jennifer Garner), is called a “female vigilante” by a local news anchor, and a “soccer mom” by Los Angeles police. She uses a maxi pad as a makeshift bandage to sop up the blood from a gushing knife wound and may have a higher body count than John Wick by the end of the film.
Why, you might ask, all the bloodshed, mayhem and stereotypes? Riley is just a regular middle class mom juggling a job and parental responsibilities in a sensible midi skirt and conservative sweater before she watches her husband and young daughter get gunned down by agents of powerful Latin drug boss at a public fair. In slow motion. With ice cream cones in hand. It’s almost disappointing that there’s no shot of the melting peppermint ice cream next to her fallen family, but there are plenty of silly ones to come (like, say, a bloody handprint on a tombstone that the police use as an indication that she’s been there).
Riley of course survives, barely, and awakes from a coma, gets a grief pixie haircut and immediately identifies the three men with the face tattoos who killed her husband and daughter. But a deeply corrupt system lets them walk, and Riley goes rogue, disappearing for a few years to learn how to be a killer and return on the five-year anniversary of the incident to execute all who wronged her.
The movie doesn’t show much, if anything, of her training, which is summarized in exposition by an FBI agent (Annie Ilonzeh), but just picks up with her killing spree and her life operating out of a skid row home base. It’s a bit of whiplash, her transition from Laura Ashley to Lara Croft, but you get used to the new Riley fairly quickly (and honestly there wasn’t a lot of the old one to latch on to either).
And goodness, she is not kidding around with these murders, which are not only bloody and gruesome but psychotically theatrical. Her Terminator-like focus on her revenge path still allows her to violently scold a shoddy parent on a public bus.
The funny thing about “Peppermint” is that even in spite of its ridiculousness and clichés and flashbacks filled with stock sounds of giggling children, the movie does start to lull you into submission when the revenge stops really start picking up. And there are a few twists and turns (some eye-rolling, some not) as you wait for her inevitable showdown with Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba).
It’s a movie that is really best seen with a big, rowdy crowd who will be there to laugh at all the bravado. “Peppermint” is not some model of equality, it’s just violent escapism that happens to have a woman in the lead role. And, frankly, as long as this genre continues to entertain audiences, Garner is a compelling a lead as any, and more so than quite a few of the men who get so many parts like this. But maybe, just maybe, next time consider a woman or two behind the camera (and script) as well.
“Peppermint,” an STXFilms release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “strong violence and language throughout.” Running time: 102 minutes. Two stars out of four.
MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.