I spent the first hour and change of Peppermint being genuinely impressed with how much gritty, pulpy work had gone into the screenplay. Things happen because they need to happen. We don’t spend too much time lingering on how exactly a suburban mom working part time at a bank suddenly began traveling the world, training in mixed martial arts and otherwise preparing herself for her triumphant return as a gun-toting vigilante. We get a few details, but it’s all delivered in a scene where the cops are throwing their hands up, asking, “How could this have happened?” Eh, who cares? It’s enough that we know why. Seeing your husband and young child gunned down right in front of you will do that. And if it it doesn’t, then watching the gangsters responsible walk free certainly will. Happens to the best of us.
Plot holes don’t really have to exist in these types of films. When done right, backstories and motivations are kept to a minimum, and nothing is explained to begin with, so any larger internal logic is up to the viewer. A murder spree in a piñata factory, for example, left me frustrated because I wanted to see those piñatas exploding all over the place. You might ask, “But why would they explode? They’re in a factory, so they’re empty, right?” No. I don’t care. It would have been cool. It’s that kind of movie. Then the film decides at the last minute to change things up and introduce rules, and that’s when things finally fall apart.
Peppermint takes us all the way up to what could have been a satisfying enough finale to all the kill-crazy rampaging and then makes an abrupt turn, throwing in an element that works dramatically in the moment, but if lingered upon for any longer than that proves to be sillier and more illogical than it should. This is especially weird since the plot then must start over from where we were at the beginning of the second act just to keep up the tension. As an action thriller, that’s fine. We get shootouts, stabbings, explosions, dirty cops, twists on top of twists, and they’re all fine. They’re even great sometimes. The extended third act just feels like a remix of the standard tropes and elements we’re more used to seeing from more modern, hyperstylized filmmaking rather than paying off the old-school ass-kicking outlaw story we had up to that point.
But I need to stress that it really is a lot of fun. Peppermint is a movie we’ve seen way too many times before, but for some reason, this one works and doesn’t feel like just another cookie-cutter Death Wish knockoff (or remake). Every set piece — most of them ending with Jennifer Garner’s “guardian angel”/social media superstar Riley North murdering lots and lots of people — is exhilarating and hilarious. I doubt I’ll ever want to sit down and watch it all again, but it’s efficient, bloody and sticks to its guns right up until the end, when most other movies would have given in and let its audience off the hook. Plus, any movie that uses “I’m going to burn down your house with you still inside, now” as a punchline is OK by me. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout. Now playing at AMC River Hills Classic 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.