Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:

Title: Peppermint

Describe This Movie In One "Holy Wars...The Punishment Due" Quote:

MEGADETH: They killed my wife and my baby / With hopes to enslave me.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Mourning mom murders Mexican mobsters. Mercy.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2 Skid Row debut albums out of 5

Tagline: "The system failed. She won't."

Better Tagline: "For people who wished Alias had more headshots."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Riley North (Jennifer Garner) doesn't exactly have it all — she works a thankless bank job and her family struggles to make ends meet — but at least she has her loving husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) and an adorable daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming). Until...she doesn't. Because Chris momentarily considered robbing drug dealer Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), he and Carly are gunned down. The shooters get off, thanks to a corrupt legal system, and Riley disappears for five years, returning with a certain set of skills necessary to take down Garcia's crew and everyone else who wronged her.

"Critical" Analysis: In Ye Olden Tymes, the revenge flick didn't require its so-called protagonist to possess abilities other than access to a large firearm or bludgeoning implement. It's why architect Paul Kersey was able to mete out justice so effectively in Death Wish, or Walking Tall's Buford Pusser could clean up McNairy County singlehandedly.

Granted, Kersey liked guns, and Pusser was an ex-wrestler with anger issues, but still.

Your modern equivalents, on the other hand, are essentially combat experts from the jump. John Wick is able to avenge his dog because he's an unkillable assassin, ditto The Bride (Kill Bill), Creasy from Man on Fire is ex-Marine Force get the idea. Aside from DW's Kersey, the character bearing the most similarity to Riley is The Punisher's Frank Castle, who's a Special Forces vet (or ex-USMC sniper, depending on how far back you want to go).

Now, this space is where we'd normally talk about modern films running unnecessarily long, but Peppermint actually doesn't build its character's backstory enough. Riley disappears after the murder of her husband and daughter, returning five years later (on the anniversary of their deaths), and the only clue as to what's turned her into a single-minded angel of death is a YouTube clip of her in cage fight.

Even the cops attached to her original case (John Gallagher, Jr. and John Ortiz) are only tipped off to her return by the FBI three months after the fact, when she's already established a safe zone of sorts in her new base of operations in downtown L.A. and begun her vengeance quest against Garcia and "the system" that let his men walk.

Director Pierre Morel is best known for Taken, so this kind of revenge porn is clearly in his wheelhouse. Riley's visits to Garcia's henchmen are brutally lethal, and she works her way up the chain of command quickly. But while the blown-out skulls and bone fractures are occasionally gratifying, they're also almost exclusively at the expense of a bunch of MS-13 adjacent Latino bogeymen seemingly engineered to freak out Caucasians, right down to the face tattoos and Santa Muerte statues.

And again: where did Riley acquire these abilities? How did she become such a savior to the poverty stricken they literally painted a mural of her? Why is it so hard for Twitter to dig up info on a crime that happened in 2013?

Former Alias star Garner is stll capable of asskickery, so maybe the unbelievable part was that she was a soccer mom to begin with. Unfortunately, Riley is a mostly empty template. A potentially interesting thread hinting at the character's possible psychosis is left unexplored, while Riley's status as a burgeoning social media darling is examined with roughly as much dexterity as in this year's Death Wish remake. The right-wing bell ringing is just the icing on what is already a half-baked effort.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar