We’ll say this: few things are as exhilarating to watch as Jennifer Garner kicking some ass. Lately, the former Alias star has been seen playing a string of nice mom characters (see: Miracles from Heaven, which co-starred Eugenio Derbez), but she’s finally back on her action A-game with Peppermint. This September release is the latest action flick from the director of Taken. That Liam Neeson vehicle brought the “people take justice into their own hands” genre back into heavy rotation and so every few months we get a new one. This time around we’re following Riley (Garner) who disappears for five years after her husband and daughter are killed in a drive-by and she sees their killers walk free. When she returns she’s ready to wreak havoc on the cartel that orchestrated the hit and then pulled strings to sway dirty cops and judges from having justice being served.
Oh yeah. The “García cartel.” That’s when the film lost us. Do we even need to describe the tattoo-riddled actors who are playing the gang members that prompt this suburban mom to go full vigilante? The movie’s creators didn’t even do enough research to know that a Mexican drug cartel is nothing like a US street gang (with MS-13-style face tattoos and lowrider cars) and end up conflating the two groups. “Social media is lit up with support for her,” we’re told in the trailer once bodies of cartel members start showing up dead, hanging from a ferris wheel (yes, the same one we see she’d ridden with her family before they were killed). “She’s a multiple-homicide suspect,” John Gallagher Jr.’s cop counters. “Not to them, she’s not,” he’s told. It’s easy to get lost in the hit-’em-up-style action sequences to see the kind of rhetorical twists and turns happening in otherwise canned dialogue like that. These aren’t seen as homicides because those she’s killing are, well, to borrow a line that’s been floating around lately, merely animals.
Listen, we know these kinds of movies need villains. And drug cartels are as easy targets as anything else out there. Especially right now. But hot off the heels of films like Gringo and Sicario: Day of the Soldado, you have to wonder what kind of lazy storytelling is going on where the danger lurking just outside a perfect suburban existence are pesky Mexican drug warlords. There’s fascinating potential here, especially once the trailer suggests that Riley is keeping neighborhoods safe and eyeing the corruption that let her family’s killers off in the first place. One wonders what a film like this with a Latina lead could’ve looked like (couldn’t you see JLo, Rosario Dawson, or Michelle Rodriguez be great in a role like this?): it could’ve exemplified how often it’s the women on both sides of the border — mothers especially — who carry the burden of the cycle of violence that the war on drugs perpetuates. Instead, we’re left with yet more cultural fodder that not only keeps Latinos from playing anything other than gang members (seriously, we’ve lost count of how many times Richard Cabral has been cast in these roles) but reinforces dangerous myths about how to cope when violence hits home. We’ll save our outrage for when the film actually starts screening but we won’t hold our breath.
Peppermint opens in theaters on September 7, 2018.