A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Peppermint is a revenge action thriller that centers on a grieving and determined wife/mother named Riley North (Jennifer Garner). Riley watched her husband and daughter get gunned down by gang members who were never convicted for their crimes; five years later, she returns to Los Angeles with one goal: to kill every man she holds responsible for her family's murder. Not surprisingly, then, there's a lot of bloody, even grisly violence as Riley seeks her vengeance. She shoots, stabs, and tortures her victims. She also punches and ties up a woman who had been cruel to her and her daughter. The villains also kill, but most of the violence is Riley's. The death toll is problematic not only for its graphic nature but also because, with one exception, every single person Riley kills is of Mexican or Asian descent -- and nearly every single person of color in the movie is a cold-blooded criminal. You can also expect a ton of strong language, mostly "f--k" and "s--t," visuals of drugs, some drinking, and background smoking.
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What's the story?
PEPPERMINT stars Jennifer Garner as Riley North, a middle-class Los Angeles wife and mom who witnesses her husband and young daughter getting gunned down in public after he's tangentially involved in a plan to steal from a local drug kingpin. Although Riley survives the shooting that wipes out her family and is able to identify the gunmen, bribed officials ensure that the men are never prosecuted or convicted. Five years after the murders, Riley returns to L.A. with a new set of skills and one sole purpose: to kill every man she holds responsible for her family's deaths.
Is it any good?
What could have been an interesting gender twist on tried-and-true revenge fantasies devolves into a tone-deaf, uninteresting rip-off of much more compelling films. It should have been a delight to see Garner step out of her many interchangeable suburban mom roles into a part that showcases the action skills she honed as the fierce, fit star of Alias. So it's particularly disappointing that Peppermint, with its gut-wrenching premise, wastes her talent with its clunky script, problematic depictions, and ridiculous plot. One example? Unlike revenge movies starring men (John Wick, Taken), there's little to explain how Riley acquired the necessary expertise in assassination, robbery, and covert global transportation required to become a one-woman killing machine.
Working from a script by Chad St. John, director Pierre Morel portrays the movie's villains as cartoonishly evil (the gunmen even laugh in the courtroom) -- and nearly universally people of color. Sure, there's also John Ortiz as a homicide cop, but he's under suspicion for most of the movie as being the drug dealer's inside man on the force. The optics of a white vigilante being an angel of righteous vengeance while every brown person in the story is a bloodthirsty drug dealer, henchman, or criminal isn't believable or laudable. The criminal underworld, especially in Los Angeles, isn't solely the domain of Mexican or Korean Americans. But even if you set all of the sociopolitical undertones aside, the story is much less entertaining than a revenge thriller should be to work. Garner, and moviegoers, deserve better.
Talk to your kids about ...
With barely any exception, all of the movie's "bad guys" are people of color -- particularly Americans of Mexican descent. What message does that choice send?
What does the movie have to say about law vs. justice? What's the difference between the two? Do you think justice was served?
Do you consider Riley a role model? Why do you think she's considered an "angel" by the people of Skid Row?
- In theaters: September 7, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: December 11, 2018
- Cast: Jennifer Garner, Michael Mosley, John Gallagher, Jr.
- Director: Pierre Morel
- Studio: STX Entertainment
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violence and language throughout
- Last updated: July 16, 2020
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