The law of diminishing returns has affected French director Pierre Morel since he hit it big with District B13 and Taken; perhaps because follow-ups like From Paris with Love and The Gunman lack their own identity and simply chase the director's past successes. His latest, Peppermint, is a facsimile of Taken in that it sees a parent seek revenge against the criminals who hurt her child. Jennifer Garner is the lead here, and, while she is believably deadly (calling back moves from her "Alias" days), Garner does not have the gravitas of Liam Neeson to support the story. Despite the freedom of an R rating, Peppermint is a safe, bland Euro thriller with stock villains, generic action and a paper-thin story. It satisfies for a non-demanding movie night at home, but not much else.
After a quick opening scene in which Garner's Riley North dispatches some unknown baddie in a car, Peppermint takes us back in time five years to explain why Riley has gone from doting mother to deadly assassin. Riley and husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) struggle to pay the bills in Los Angeles. Chris's garage is failing, and a buddy convinces him the best way to make ends meet is by robbing a drug kingpin. While Chris backs out at the last minute, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba) takes no prisoners with his business and orders a hit on Chris. His goons strike at a local carnival, after Chris and Riley's daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming) orders peppermint ice cream, and both Chris and Carly perish in a curtain of bullets. Riley is injured but awakens in the hospital to the terrible news. She positively identifies the shooters, but a cartel lawyer soon visits her house to convince her to accept a large cash payout and forget the trial...or else. In a ridiculous probable cause hearing, a corrupt judge lets the shooters go, and Riley is involuntarily committed after attacking the defense table. I know this is a movie, but this scene is laughably implausible and took me out of the story.
What is a single, childless gal to do but fall off the grid for a few years, train to be a killer and plan her revenge? Local detectives Beltran (John Ortiz) and Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.) later discover the three shooters have been murdered and hung from a Ferris wheel on carnival grounds, and learn Riley has robbed banks and gun stores in the preceding months. I suppose the question here is what are we OK with morally? Riley is failed by the system, so she she goes on a murder spree. This is a movie so we don't have to really be OK with her behavior, but I need to point out that Riley is failed by a small group of corrupt players and never attempts to contact the FBI, other law enforcement officers, etc. Not to be a killjoy, but Peppermint asks viewers to suspend disbelief at every turn. Once back in L.A., Riley starts visiting those responsible for her family's death and allowing the shooters to go free, and plants roots in a local slum, causing the crime rate to drop.
This is a story as old as time, and it has been more deftly told in movies like Taken, Death Wish, John Wick and Rolling Thunder. Garner is not to blame for the movie's shortcomings, as she gives a nice performance and makes the audience aware her character is not blindly killing for sport. Chad St. John's screenplay is repetitive and insipid, which hamstrings Garner and the action. Peppermint is content to move from set piece to set piece, none of which are memorable, and send waves of bad guys at Riley for her to cut down. When the film stops to let Garner breathe, it has more emotional impact, but the pacing is pokey during the 102-minute running time. There is also plenty of hyperactive editing, supporting characters make no impact on the story, and the stakes feel pretty low across the board. Morel's latest is more forgettable than terrible, but, given the talent of his star, Peppermint is a big disappointment.
Universal did not release a 4K Ultra HD version of Peppermint at this time, so the Blu-ray is the best version available. The 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is expectedly competent. This digitally shot film offers strong fine-object detail and texture. Some wider shots are slightly soft, but the film looks good in motion. Colors are nicely saturated and black levels are generally strong, save a couple of shots in which they push toward purple. I noticed minor aliasing and some digital noise, which is not unexpected in low-light scenes with digital photography. Skin tones are accurate, highlights never bloom and I noticed no digital noise reduction.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is bold and immersive, with plenty of sound pans and lots of subwoofer support. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and is balanced appropriately with the more rambunctious elements of the soundtrack. Gunfire, explosions and hand-to-hand combat make an impact; and effects pans make good use of the surrounds. The soundtrack is balanced appropriately, too, and environmental effects also play through the whole sound field. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and HD digital copy. The discs are packed in a standard case that is wrapped in a slipcover. The only extras are a Commentary by Director Pierre Morel that is fairly involving, as the director makes a good host, and Justice (2:16/HD), a pointless EPK piece.
Director Pierre Morel is unable to replicate the success of his revenge thriller Taken with this Jennifer Garner-starring Peppermint. Despite his lead's best efforts, this violent action film suffers from a generic script, faceless bad guys and convoluted editing. Rent It only if you are fans of the director or Garner.