It’s exciting to see Jennifer Garner back in an action role. It’s been years since Alias and Elektra never garnered enough attention, but Garner isn’t new to kicking ass onscreen. Peppermint more than showcases her ability to fight and be fierce, but all of that is overshadowed by a thin story and even more thinly-veiled racism. It’s 2018, movies need to do better.
Riley North (Garner) is a working mom, trying to provide for her family, whom we’re supposed to believe is struggling financially. Her husband, Jeff Hephner (Chris North), is desperate enough to flirt with the idea of robbing a drug lord, but backs out at the last minute. But that’s one minute too late as the mere thought of executing this plan puts a target on Jeff’s back and ends with the death of him and daughter, Carly (Cailey Fleming).
After the tragedy, Riley attempts to get justice through the system, only to find out that the lawyer of the three men who killed her family is paid off, allowing them to walk free. Riley disappears and goes off grid for five years before returning on the anniversary of her family’s death to exact her revenge against everyone who destroyed her life.
Peppermint is every revenge movie you’ve ever seen, but it fails in its presentation of who exactly wronged Riley. That blame ultimately falls on Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), the head of a drug operation and supposedly one of the most dangerous men in Los Angeles. The film isn’t even self-aware enough to realize how racist it is. One of the primary examples is how Riley goes on a shooting rampage across the city, tracking down members of Diego’s gang, all of whom are Latino men. The shady DA, a white man, is killed offscreen and is only mentioned in passing. The only other white man killed onscreen is the judge who oversaw the trial. Everyone else she kills is Mexican and it’s incredibly hard to notice or not be uncomfortable with this portrayal.
Diego and his men are full on stereotypes, the scary Latino men with face tattoos who will come for your children and shoot your husbands, take away your life and sense of safety. It’s incredibly irresponsible and harmful, especially in our current political climate, to perpetuate such stereotypes. The film plays like a conservative’s dream and only feeds the idea that Mexicans are terrible people and deserve to be gunned down for hurting a white woman’s family.
Even worse is that Riley’s husband, who arguably started the whole mess, is blameless and there’s no sense of emotion or tension with regards to how Riley feels about it. Does she feel betrayed that her husband goes behind her back and does something so irresponsible? Is Riley mad at him for putting into motion the events which get him and their daughter killed? No, Peppermint doesn’t go that far nor is it interested in placing blame on your average Joe white man who is just trying to do what’s best for his family. So let’s lay all the blame on the big, bad Mexicans instead!
Riley’s actions are picked up by the media and many paint her as some sort of vigilante, a protector of the community, a woman who is never in the wrong, but uplifted for her deeds and dedication to justice. Even the cops are somewhat in awe of her abilities to track and take down a drug dealer’s operation in only three months when they haven’t been able to do it for years. It’s all so infuriating and utterly ridiculous.
Aside from the obvious racism of the film, Peppermint has an incredibly thin plot. After Riley goes off the grid, stealing $55,000 from the bank she used to work, we never get to see how exactly she gain her new skillset. Where did she learn to shoot? Where did she learn to fight? There’s only a brief video of her fighting in the ring somewhere in Europe or China, but that’s it. The film tries to go Batman-style with the overseas training but takes massive shortcuts. It leaves a lot to the imagination and many unanswered questions that weigh down the film. The action isn’t enough to hold audience attention, either because it’s not engaging at all.
Many will watch Peppermint and think nothing of the film’s blatant racism, only that Jennifer Garner got to be in an action movie and take down the “bad guys.” But with so many plot holes, a paper thin attempt at a story, and detrimental stereotypes, Peppermint is more frustrating than anything else and is an example of the ways in which Hollywood needs to shed its own biases.