Review: There's No Sydney Bristow in 'Peppermint,' Just Jennifer Garner Pushing a Conservative Agenda
I wish I could tell you that Peppermint isn’t a racist as hell movie that basically operates as one long “Vote Republican in the upcoming midterm elections, otherwise brown men of indiscriminate Latin or Hispanic origin will murder your happy white Christian family and get away with it because of deep-state corruption!” but in our collective nightmare of 2018, I CANNOT TELL YOU THAT. I wouldn’t lie to you. I can only tell the truth, and the truth is that Peppermint is like getting sushi from a hospital cafeteria. You know it’s going to be bad, but you don’t know how bad, and then as soon as you’re about halfway in, it’s like, oh fuck yeah, this is bad.
So yes, Peppermint, the movie in which Jennifer Garner ostensibly returns to her Alias roots of kicking ass, having a good haircut, and displaying admirable upper-arm musculature, is also a movie where every brown man save one is a criminal or murderer, and suburban white people are all victims, and a shoot-out happens in a piñata factory operating as a money-laundering business.
2018, motherfuckers! We are living in the worst goddamn timeline!
Fittingly considered alongside Death Wish and Sicario: Day of the Soldado as one of the most pandering-to-red-state films of the year, Peppermint focuses on Riley North (Garner), bank employee, wife of mechanic Chris (Jeff Hephner), and mother of daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming). The family is struggling financially, and Carly doesn’t quite fit in with her wealthier peers, and Riley is trying to spin everything about their lives positively when, while attending a Christmas carnival and right after Carly orders two scoops of peppermint ice cream, Chris and Carly are gunned down.
Riley was shot, too, but she remembers what happened: three men with face tattoos and machine guns — you know, brown men (I’m not sure if the film ever actually mentions the word “Mexicans,” although it leans hard into depicting stereotypical cartel shit) — killed her husband and daughter in front of her, and tried to kill her too. But the detectives assigned to the case, Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.) and Beltran (John Ortiz), know that this was a hit ordered by gang leader Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), and they know that really working the case will put them in danger. The prosecutor is disinterested. The defense lawyer tries to pay Riley off. The judge doesn’t let her speak. Every single man in Riley’s way tries to control her and tell her she’s wrong, so she flees — dropping out of sight and disappearing off the grid for five years.
Until, on the anniversary of her family’s death, she returns to Los Angeles, robbing a gun store of “military-grade” weapons; cleaning up Skid Row, where she’s hiding out in a van full of said stolen weapons; and starting a spree of vigilante violence. Carmichael and Beltran realize that she’s returned, but there are more eyes on the case now — the FBI is involved, and Garcia, who is having his own problems with his cartel suppliers, sends an army of men after her. But Riley can’t be stopped: “What do I want? I want justice,” she says, and ughhh blerghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh nope.
Look, I get what Peppermint is trying to do: it is attempting to be a sort of (white) feminist call to arms, this encouragement of mothers and matriarchal figures to go to any lengths to protect their children because there are so many dangers out there. Maybe that’s what drew Garner to this project; she’s cultivated quite a public image as a devoted mother, and this role fits perfectly in line with that presentation of herself. But the obvious reality here is that this movie is less about Riley North as an avenging angel (although, the movie literally has someone call her that, and a mural in Skid Row presents her as an angel with wings made out of guns, an image recreated in the film’s marketing materials) and more about her as a murderer of people of color, and how totally fine that is because somebody has to do it. It won’t be the police or federal law enforcement or the justice system but one formerly mild-mannered white lady who with some mixed martial arts training and the right kinds of weapons that she can buy totally legally is able to exterminate a problem no one else has the balls to. And that problem is Mexican men.
Because this movie makes sure to let you know these men are Mexican by regurgitating familiar images. They all look exactly like the kind of nightmare boogeymen Republican politicians are so fond of describing to you — face tattoos, gold jewelry, plaid shirts with only the top button fastened, low-riding cars, flashy silver guns. They pray to Santa Muerte (there are three different Santa Muerte statues in this film, and you see the first one splattered with the blood of a white man, to really drive home the brutality of these people) and they abuse their women (she never speaks, but you see that Garcia’s scantily clad female partner has a black eye) and they are obsessed with heteronormative masculinity (Garcia is enraged when Riley says “you hit like a girl”). And so when Riley uses their own tactics against them — stringing up bodies from a Ferris wheel, torturing people for information, and shooting to kill — she’s only doing what they deserve. She’ll take this whole system down, of course, and people will love her for it.
There are many things in Peppermint that are enraging, but there are also these little moments that are so stupid that I’ll remember them forever — like when Riley returns to the home of a wealthy mom who mocked her family once, and she breaks into her bathroom to steal medical supplies, and she uses what is clearly a heavy-day menstrual pad to staunch the blood flow from a wound. Um, excuse me! This rich bitch, with her stiletto heels and her white jeans and her aggressively sparkly jewelry, is definitely a tampon person. Or she would probably have an IUD and not even get her period anymore! At least get your details right about the feminine experience! Or, like when the police see social media support for Riley online, and someone tweets that they think what Riley is doing is right because drug dealers “allegedly” killed her family. Which Internet troll these days is using the word “allegedly” in tweets to cover their asses legally? The Pepes of our current reality aren’t doing that shit!
But Peppermint isn’t really a movie, it’s one long anti-immigration, pro-guns-rights brainwashing session for people who already believed in those things anyway. It’s an excuse for zealous conservatives who think Garner is hot to salivate at her wielding a big gun and killing brown people and defending family values as she mocks a woman for getting a divorce. Garner isn’t Sydney Bristow anymore, and that’s because Peppermint killed her. (And like, a bunch of brown people.)
Image sources (in order of posting): STXfilms/Epk.tv, STXfilms/Epk.tv, STXfilms/Epk.tv, STXfilms/Epk.tv
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