"I take orders from the Octoboss."


Well damn, I had been hyped to see PEPPERMINT in theaters but I lost the urgency after everyone told me it was bad, and it left before I got to it. Turns out it’s the type of shit I like. Shoulda trusted my gut.

Admittedly it is guilty of that troublingly prevalent action movie problem of our era: vicious Mexican gang/cartel bad guys at a time when the ruling party in this country wants us to be having nightmares about that shit to justify their cruel, racist policies and moneymaking scams (see also SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO). As if left over from another time, the movie casts John Ortiz (CARLITO’S WAY, NARC, MIAMI VICE, AMERICAN GANGSTER, FAST & FURIOUS, FURIOUS 6) as the lead investigator, the one Latin good guy that’s supposed to offset the stereotype. To be fair, they also have the cartel conspiring with local cops, judges and lawyers, so Corruption In The System is as guilty as The Other.

Anyway if you can stomach that then the only other action movie sins are the type that I just laugh at and enjoy, like the ludicrous TV coverage of our anti-hero’s rampage (details later). I think the best way to explain the appeal of this movie is to say that I have enjoyed all of the PUNISHER movies, including this one.

It’s got a good cold open: a lone car in a parking lot, windows fogged, bouncing and squeaking. Don’t come a knockin. Except when it cuts inside it’s Riley North (Jennifer Garner, MR. MAGOO) in the front seat having a knife fight with a guy. She wins, drags the body out and puts it in the trunk. We then jump back to 5 YEARS EARLIER, when we see her previous life as the loving, hard working mother of Carly (Cailey Fleming, young Rey in THE FORCE AWAKENS) and wife of Chris (Jeff Hephner, INTERSTELLAR), both of whom get drive-by machine-gunned to death. On the kid’s birthday. At the holiday carnival. Right after buying ice cream cones. Very not cool, in my opinion.

Riley got a good look at everybody in the car, and they make it pretty easy for her by having huge face tattoos, and then by being the only ones with face tattoos in each of their police lineups. But THE SYSTEM IS CORRUPT, MAN and the courtroom scene where the killers get off is an even more over-the-top knife-twister than the great one in William Lustig’s VIGILANTE. In this one the defense lawyer (Michael Mosley, Justified) – who already showed up inside her house without permission to intimidate and try to bribe her! – accuses her of being crazy and talks over her until she cries and the judge dismisses the case so she flips out and runs at the killers and the bailiffs tackle and (this is my favorite part) tase her while the killers laugh and the judge yells at her and they try to drag her to a mental hospital.

She’s like “fuck this” and escapes from the ambulance, but at this point she’s still an ordinary mom, not a dark warrior of vengeance, so when she’s hauling ass down the street and gets in the way of a car she says “Sorry!”

At this point, of course, a very satisfying path is set out for the movie to follow. She will have to track down these killers one by one and kill them, then find the cartel boss who ordered the hit, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba, SHOT CALLER).

Except… NOPE! Instead it skips ahead five years to when she’s already killed the shooters and strung their corpses from the fucking ferris wheel! We also learn in a presentation from FBI Agent In Charge of Exposition Lisa Inman (Annie Ilonzeh, ALL EYEZ ON ME) that she’s robbed a bank and a gun store, become an underground cage fighter overseas, murdered the D.A. and various other badass shit. Not vengeance – peppermint. Er, I mean punishment.

Speaking of which, the title seems to come from the flavor of ice cream her daughter ordered, and maybe the knockoff Thin Mints her knockoff Girl Scouts troop sold, and also a line in the trailer but I think cut from the movie where Riley tells the kid she has peppermint in her blood. At one point I did think there was gonna be a candy theme, because the drug operation runs out of a pinata factory, but it doesn’t amount to much. Oh well. Chocolate doesn’t seem that relevant to CHOCOLATE either, but I never lost any sleep over it.

Riley – who in my opinion should just be called Peppermint and should wear a bullet proof vest painted with candy cane stripes – lives in a van full of guns parked next to a tent city. She wages war with the cartel, while the police and FBI try to find her. The way they do is funny: they look at a computer map of crime patterns and notice that there’s a big empty spot around skid row ever since she came back in town. We don’t see her fighting crime there, but there is a scene where she sees a drunk being mean to his son on a bus so she gets off at the stop to beat his ass, find out his name and address and threaten him. Another fun action movie standard she participates in is the ol’ self-surgery. She doesn’t remove a slug and drop it into a metal canister, as is traditional, but she pours liquor on a knife wound then staple-guns and duct tapes it. The staple gun thing is in another movie I’ll be reviewing soon, so it may be gaining in popularity.

There’s also a fun turn late in the movie – would’ve been predictable if I hadn’t forgotten about the character by that point – where she shows up covered in blood at the suburban doorstep of a stuck up mom (Pell James, BRAWLER) she hated back in the day, punches her in the face and steals her car. There’s kind of a slobs vs. snobs appeal to it but in my opinion having the lady piss herself doesn’t fit the fun tone of the scene. I never like that. Lookin at you too, TRUE LIES.

Oh, here’s an odd thing: Method Man (credited as “Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith”) is in this, but he just plays a cop who shows up late in the movie and helps out a little. Nothing very distinctive about the role, seems weird for him to take it. I can only assume that he just knew this was gonna be good and offered to play any role in it, like how Daniel Craig played a storm trooper.

Unlike The Punisher, everybody knows her real name as they hear about her exploits on TV. Like every god damn vigilante movie ever made they have to do the thing where they over-emphasize that there’s controversy in the city as to whether she’s a menace or a folk hero. Thank God they don’t do man-on-the-street interviews or a radio call in show, but in perfect “this is already embarrassing so it’s gonna be hilarious a couple years from now” exploitation fashion they have multiple news broadcasts that lead with lines like “Social media continues to explode with debate about Riley North, female vigilante, still on the loose.” Apparently the big story isn’t that she may have just blown up a building, but that they’re debating it on Twitter. The police are also overly concerned with this: “It’s turning into a typical social media shit storm.”

Garner is thoroughly committed to the role and the action is better than I’ve come to expect in this type of mainstream studio action movie starring an actor-actor. I know she’s done action before on Alias and in DAREDEVIL and ELEKTRA, but she’s spent more of her career on non-swordsmanship roles like JUNO, 13 GOING ON 30 or the TV show Felicity – I’m not sure if she played “Felicity” on that or maybe she could be Felicity’s R.A.’s uptight girlfriend who goes to another school or something like that, who knows, but I believe I read she was on it. Here she does her creeping around with guns in tactical poses, boxing and grappling with men, stabbing motherfuckers. And it’s not repetitive – she keeps coming up with different clever strategies of evasion or breaking in or setting traps, using a stolen vehicle to get past security, then as a shield, then as a battering ram.

I mean, we’re not talking the amazing athletic showcase of director Pierre Morel’s DISTRICT (B)13, but it’s much better than the hiding-behind-shakes-and-edits game of his TAKEN. Some of second unit director/stunt coordinator Keith Woulard’s credits include some serious shit including G.I. JANE, ELITE SQUAD and SICARIO. The fight coordinator and trainer for Garner was Don Lee (BEATDOWN, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER), with additional work by Panuvat Anthony Nanakornpanom (“Yakuza #7,” BLACK COBRA).

It feels like one of the tighter Luc Besson productions, but he actually had nothing to do with this one. The script is by Chad St. John (LONDON HAS FALLEN). St. John actually wrote DIRTY LAUNDRY, that unofficial Punisher short with Thomas Jane. PEPPERMINT is much more fun though in my opinion.

I’ve always been a sucker for vigilante movies, even as their underlying themes have been kind of icky to me. But simply having a woman as the protagonist shifts those things significantly. In many of the DEATH WISH movies, Kersey’s wife, daughter or girlfriend is raped and/or killed, and he savagely murders either the perpetrators or unrelated criminals as a form of revenge. There’s this feeling that it’s a man’s duty, similar to protecting his property, or collecting a debt. And in the first one there’s the matter of his liberalism and white collar job, things that seem to tame him and hold him back. In the book, he’s more like a nerd or a wimp, someone no one would expect to do something like this. So he’s using violence to assert his masculinity, to gain some sort of feeling of power, to fulfill the role of a man that he was too much of a sissy for before this happened.

But here the killer is a lady, a mother. So by being the asskicker she’s defying her prescribed gender role. Nobody’s gonna argue “Yeah, this is how we used to handle things.” She’s breaking boundaries. I’m not saying it’s a righteous form of female empowerment, but it makes it a more novel vigilante movie. Another thing that’s kind of unusual is that it never deals with the “revenge makes you just as bad as them” angle. The closest it comes is having her hesitate to kill Garcia when his daughter reminds her of her own daughter. She’s so mythical – at the tent city they have a giant mural of her with angel wings, and children hide and spy on her like the kids at the beginning of MASK OF ZORRO – that it feels more like an inspirational fantasy than a morbid one.

It looks like this one probly made a small profit, but doesn’t have enough fans for them to give us PEPPERMINT WAR ZONE or whatever. Social media did not explode. Too bad. I woulda been there this time.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 6th, 2019 at 10:03 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

32 Responses to “Peppermint”

  1. I don’t wanna criticize Garner’s career choices, but I wish she would’ve become an action star. Or at least did a few more of these movies once in a while. She always seemed to be more legit than other TV action stars or “real” actors, who decided to jump on the post-BOURNE “Hey, if Matt Damon can kick ass on screen, so can I” bandwagon .

    I don’t know if she has a real martial arts background or just took the training and choreography more serious than others, but whenever she beat someone up on screen, I didn’t think: “Oh look, the actress is re-enacting fighting poses.” I mean, if you put her in a movie with real action and martial arts stars, who spend 14 hours a day in the dojo, she will probably look a bit less good, but it really irked me when a few years ago people kept talking about doing a female EXPENDABLES movie, but nobody even bothered to dream-cast Jennifer Garner.

  2. Oh yeah, those cartels are just a paper tiger, it’s not like they leave severed heads and other assorted body parts or dead bodies of people they tortured to death for others to find to send a message about their brutality.

    Who would cast them as bad guys in a movie?

  3. Agreed. I wish i saw this in theaters.

  4. Griff, please note that Vern never said that cartels were a paper tiger, that you imagined that. Please also check out his recent review of ‘The Mule’ where he acknowledges that cartels are real and bad, but wrote in-depth about why he was conflicted about seeing them as movie bad guys these days. I would give you the benefit of the doubt and just assume you didn’t read that review but you posted some dumbass stuff there also so I guess I can’t.

  5. It just comes off as pretty ridiculous to dismiss cartels as inappropriate bad guys for action movies, politicians have always exploited real threats, doesn’t change the threat being a reality though and it doesn’t mean everyone should just ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

    Did Vern feel this way whenever a 2000s movie had terrorist bad guys? It’s not healthy to allow Trump to colonize your mind to the point where something only tangentially related is enough to take you out of a movie.

  6. It also comes off as pretty insensitive considering a MS-13 member just recently murdered Americans.

    Does that…. just not matter?

  7. Ok, it was a shooting of a rival gang member, not a mass shooting like I initially thought.

    Still, it doesn’t seem right to me to downplay the threat of gangs and cartels to the degree that you think they shouldn’t be used as bad guys in a silly action movie.

  8. Speaking of MS-13, have anyone seen the trailer of the new Van Damme film WE DIE YOUNG. Van Damme is on a little press tour and was on Conan last night, and he even did a crazy interview for Collider Live. Watch that if you got an half hour. But WE DIE YOUNG stars Van Damme as a war veteran helping out a teenager and his young brother getting away from an MS-13 gang. The main kid is played by the young cartel member in Sicario DAy of the Dead, Elijah ROdriguez I think he is called. Looks interesting, WE DIE YOUNG is made by a documentary filmmaker, and it seem like Van DAmme has been cast for two reason 1) His face and tired eyes, and 2) To make people go and watch an action/drama about an important subject. So it’s seem like a drama they put Van DAmme in for mass apeal, but still looks interesting.

  9. Griff — “Did Vern feel this way whenever a 2000s movie had terrorist bad guys?” In a word, yes. Yes he did. People who are trying to gain power by stoking fear against specific minorities are trying to craft narratives, and so fiction which helps illustrate those narratives is clearly a useful propaganda tool. So yes, it was an issue during the Bush years when we had a bunch of scary faceless Muslim terrorists as bad guys. It was a problem as recently as AMERICAN SNIPER, if you’ll recall. It doesn’t mean that you can’t tell these kinds of stories, but it definitely means that you also have to take responsibility for the kinds of stories you tell and support, and can’t just dismiss any responsibility about the message it cultivates the way you might for Godzillas or supervillains. And if you’ll notice, that’s all he’s asking you to do here: just think about it. He gave this movie a positive review, for heaven’s sake. He specifically says the opposite of “dismissing cartels as inappropriate bad guys for action movies.” But like it or not, art tells us, in some small way, about how to think about the world, and if the story the art is telling helps support things like Trump sending the military to fire tear gas at refugees, that at least deserves our serious consideration.

  10. Yeah, thinking twice I understand his point and I was coming off as an idiot.

    I’ve had a real problem with impulsively shooting my mouth off and saying stupid shit lately, I’m truly sorry about that and will try to do better.

    I need to go have a moment of soulful introspection while staring at a sunset or whatever, I guess.

  11. We all know the real bad guys out there are devil worshippers. And they get that way from playing D&D and listening to heavy metal. Then they drive around in white paneled vans trying to kidnap kids or they open daycares.

  12. God bless this place and the discourse it produces. Who ever debates these issues in an open and honest way (and online of all places!)? We can talk about real shit here and be the complex, thoughtful, conflicted people we really are without shouting each other down or resorting to hollow polemic talking points. This is literally the only websight where the comments section doesn’t make me want to vomit. And actually makes me pretty happy.

  13. Sorry for using the word “dumbass,” that’s not cool.

    Personally, I mostly don’t even share Vern’s fear about these kind of movies stoking racist sentiment, though I do respect it. I am well aware of how horrific the cartels are, and how these kinds of movies probably sanitize them more than unfairly demonize them. If anything, I’m more queasy about how cartel violence is so frequently portrayed as an entertainment product while the real life crisis is still ongoing on such an unthinkably brutal scale. They’re finding new mass graves in Mexico all the time and we’re up here having fun watching cartel shoot-em-ups. I’m not calling for a boycott or anything, but it does make me feel weird at times.

  14. Michaelangelo McCullar

    February 6th, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    Or Whitey. Whitey always makes a good villain.

  15. Thank you for your followup, Griff. I appreciate it. I think this is the third review where I’ve had to mention that yes, cartels are bad so they used to be good as a go-to bad guy but now that they are being used an excuse for stealing children from families and scamming the American people to build a fucking wall of racism, you have to point it out. I read that MS 13 accounts for less than 1% of the gang activity in the U.S., but almost every American action movie that has come out lately is about this sort of stuff. We also have MISS BALA out now and the new RAMBO coming soon. I was right to feel weird about SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO because recently Trump started talking about scenes from that movie as something that really happened. I don’ t know if it was senility or intentional lying, but it doesn’t make much of a difference. I still like some of the full-of-shit militaristic anti-commie movies from the ’80s, like INVASION USA, RAMBO II-III and RED DAWN, but I also recognize what they are.

  16. I just watched this and dammit, I’m mad I didn’t support it in the theater. A very solid movie. It was a great supporting cast. I didn’t recognize all of them, but they were all good. I like Michael Mosley, who played the defense attorney. He always does good work. *SPOILER* I was disappointed we didn’t get to see her revenge him.

    I’m with CJ about how great Garner is at action. I always think of her as an action star before a serious or rom-com star. I think part of why she was so great on Alias was her stunt double, though. I’m sure she did as much as she could (or they would allow her to do) and what she did do she committed to like hell. But I also think her stunt double was a fantastic match, both in looking the same, but also moving the same. I think it was the same with Sarah Michelle Gellar in Buffy. But aside from the action, she was so good at the pathos, too. *SPOILER* She was so wrenching at the end when she was at their grave and saying over and over that she missed them so much. I’ll admit to shedding a couple tears.

    I know Vern has a thing about plunking a bullet into a metal dish when people in movies get sketchy medical treatment. I have one about people using liquor as an antiseptic. Rubbing alcohol is way, way cheaper and more effective so why not have some on hand?

    A few little moments I liked:

    – the gold spangled grim reaper the bad guy had in the lab.
    – that she drank the guy’s drink from his car after stealing it.
    – the daughter stroking her hair in her dream, or ghost visitation, or whatever it was.

    I hope that somehow we get a further adventure of Peppermint Punisher.

  17. I forgot to say that I liked the 5 year gap between her being a regular person and a Punisher badass. I know we all love a good training montage, but I like the mystery of what she did to end up like she did. It’s the Sarah Conner treatment condensed into one movie. And Vern, I also loved how she apologized for running out in front of that car when she was still Jane Normal, before becoming Jane Peppermint.

  18. It’s Sarah Connor with all ‘o’s. Why do people keep doing this?

  19. It’s a conspiracy designed to piss you off!

  20. I was interested in this because it’s a story I’ve seen told a thousand times and will hopefully see a thousand more, but its director and star told me to wait for video. This kind of vigilante story has been told so many times, the only thing that can set one apart from the other is personality/style, and, like a lot of graduates from the Luc Besson Institute For Action Jobbers, Morel doesn’t really have any of either. DISTRICT B-13 is great but his chops have declined steadily since then.

    Also, I never saw ALIAS, having no way to watch TV in the pre-streaming days, so for me, Jennifer Garner’s only action experience is DAREDEVIL, which, come on. She’s about as believable as an Olsen Twin playing Ripley in that role. So although I fully respect any actor’s decision to go full DEATH WISH at any point in her or her career, I can’t say she was much of a draw for me. This idea that she is some kind of natural born action heroine is completely foreign to me. To me, she’ll never not feel like a precocious but annoying middle school honors student who got 13 GOING ON 30ed into switching bodies with her action star older sister. She has this blandly pretty girl-who’s-on-every-page-of-the-yearbook quality to her that definitely works in certain parts but has never screamed “authentic asskicker.” I guess I just haven’t seen her in the right roles.

  21. I really, really hate it when vigilante films try to broach the topic of whether or not taking the law into your own hands is justified. This is an objectively terrible idea. So unless you’re really going to subvert the genre, like have the anti-hero kill some innocent people, then just ignore the moral dilemma and let us vicariously enjoy this violence.

  22. I was shocked how much I liked this one (mainly because I thought this was an Oliver Megaton joint and not a Pierre Morel one until I saw it). The story is familiar but well-told, the action is solid, Garner is fun when she’s supposed to be and emotionally powerful when she’s supposed to be. It’s in the upper tier of Death Wish knockoffs/sequels. I absolutely loved the way it skips over her origin story, her first kill, etc… That stuff can be great and I’m not opposed to seeing it, but I’m glad this movie figured we can already fill in the blanks and kept things moving.

    One thing that I wasn’t so sure about was the “She’s crazy!!!” scenes where she kind of acts like a pro-wrestling villain/Kristen Wiig SNL character. At first I thought it seemed a little sexist, like, they totally wouldn’t make Bruce Willis or Liam Neeson or whoever act like this. And yes, Charles Bronson did lose it a bit towards the end of Death Wish 1 (“Fill your hand! Draw!”)- but Garner’s “crazy” scenes (like where she threatens to kill the soccer mom) are clearly played for laughs and not pathos or to disturb us. But after thinking a bit, I kinda like it – no, they would never make a male star act this way, but then again what’s the point of doing a female action movie if you’re just going to homogenize and make it indistinguishable from a male action movie? Especially in such well-worn territory as the vigilante flick, any fresh spin on the material is appreciated. I hope they do a sequel to this one.

  23. In that scene with the soccer mom she was just acting crazy to fuck with her though, right? She tells her she’s going to burn her house down and then says “Relax, I’m joking” or something and only steals her car.

  24. Vern, I have to applaud your commitment to the Felicity running gag. It’s been a while, so I appreciate it that much more.

  25. Griff,

    Good job thinking about what you meant to say and correcting yourself. I don’t mean that condescendingly, either. You’re a good man and your ability to self-reflect is a big part of why. We obviously disagree on a whole lot, but you’re not making the same “mistake” over and over without considering new perspectives or letting your rhetoric evolve.


  26. Thank you for reviewing this one! I saw it with my daughter and we both really enjoyed it.

    btw, they didn’t beat us over the head with it, but my impression is that they were showing that her personality changed because of the bullet damaging her frontal lobe (Phineas Gage style). She went from saying never to hit people to punching the very woman her daughter had wanted her to hit.

  27. I didn’t think of it that way. I thought it was more a standard “you say to be nice but when you suffer a tragedy your whole world view will turn completely savage” idea. I prefer your interpretation.

  28. I too felt a bit queasy about which groups this film villifys, but I felt less bad about it when I realized the main baddie was clearly a relative of Freddie Mercury or possibly Bennett from Commando.

    Also, had you told me ten years ago that Jennifer Garner would make a significantly better Death Wish movie than Bruce Willis I would have found that statement of fact implausible. Hell, she even outshined Mark Whalberg and Dwayne Johnson’s action vehicles from that its same year. A timeless masterpiece it aint, but a satisfying B Action film, absolutely.

  29. Finally saw this today. Consider me very impressed by Garner. The action is very well done, only a step or two down from John Wick standards. Wish i supported this in theaters.

  30. Just got back from seeing the new movie by this director, FREELANCE, and it was pretty good. I enjoyed it a lot. It was exactly what I wanted – a fun action romp. I think it’s probably on the same level of quality (or maybe just my enjoyment) as PEPPERMINT but less angst and more humor. There were some cool moments, some funny moments, all the actors did a good job, the story wasn’t anything innovative but it perfectly serviceable. A good way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I want to say I don’t know why it didn’t get more press (I think I saw one trailer for it) but that just seems to be movies nowadays.

  31. Pierre Morell I guess will always be in my cool book for giving me the 1st DISTRICT B13 & the 1st TAKEN. Wasn’t exactly chuffed about PEPPERMINT, thought some of the payback was rushed and I guess I even liked parts of THE GUNMAN, in spite of it being so dour and serious (like Sean Penn frequently is) but terminal over exposure aside, I like Cena, so will definitely be catching FREELANCE.

  32. So, I just caught FREELANCE…and alas, Maggie!

    I could barely stay awake for the duration of this uninspired snoozefest of played-to-death tropes, lazy writing, forced humor and worse, action so uninspired I had to re-check the credits to double confirm it’s directed by Pierre Morel. There’s probably a glimpse of him in the movie’s sole noteworthy action scene, a close quarters combat between Cena and Martin Csokas, but the rest of it is deadly dull choreography, obvious green screens, even more obvious back projections and digital explosions.

    Cena and a scene stealing Juan Pablo Raba do their best to elevate this Frankenstein-ed pastiche of about 25 better action comedies you’ve seen, but everything else about this production is conspiring against them.

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