Death Wish meets Man on Fire by way of Taken
With no cinema or home video release, Pierre 'Taken' Morel's latest debuts on Amazon Prime Video, seeing Jennifer Garner turn avenging angel.Working frequently with generic-script-generator Luc Besson (who ironically has less success directing his own scripts than exporting them out - see Valerian), Morel actually made his directorial debut on the fun French parkour action flick District 13, but didn't get international recognition until a few years later, when his relatively small scale sophomore project featuring then-flagging veteran actor Liam Neeson suddenly exploded into Box Office insanity. Neeson's action career took off with Taken, leading to over a decade of almost one-a-year copycat actioners (Run All Night, Commuter, Tombstones, Non-Stop) including two sequels.
In the meantime, Besson set his sights on doing the same for a number of other ageing actors (like Costner in 3 Days to Kill), securing Morel to direct another one of them - the John Travolta action romp From Paris with Love. Morel clearly enjoyed the routine, as he repeated the formula for his next project, Gunman, drawing Sean Penn into the over-50s action hero party. His latest features sees his sights set on bringing Alias veteran Jennifer Garner back into the fold, enlisting the actress - who hasn't had a hit starring vehicle in a decade to do her first action flick since The Kingdom.
If they ever wanted to remake Death Wish with a female lead, this is likely what it would look like
Jennifer Garner's Riley North was once just a dedicated wife and mother, working hard in her bank job and trying to provide for her family. Now she's a vigilante though, after a violent assassination attempt, and consequent miscarriage of justice compelled her to go off the grid and find justice her own way, training and plotting to take the fight to the gang that destroyed her life.
If they ever wanted to remake Death Wish (or, indeed, John Wick) with a female lead, this is likely what it would look like, with Morel's script cut from a hundred previously minted cookies, finding only sporadic energy in a committed performance from Garner (who doesn't merely retread her Alias years, but actually embraces the darker tone of the material), and occasional bouts of well-staged action.
In fact it's actually hard to accept the fact that Morel hasn't had any input from his old pal Besson for this project, given the commonality between this and Besson's own reworking of his Leon sequel, the Zoe Saldana actioner Colombiana. The reality is, though, it's so by-the-numbers that there's almost no point trying to figure out where each scene was borrowed from, it's just that random-action-script generator at play again, with only acting and moments that escape the formula.
Fans who subscribe to the streaming giant get a nice little Friday night actioner to watch in-house
The curious thing is, Peppermint is actually reasonable effective. It's hardly groundbreaking, but it works, which poses an interesting question - is it better to do an original twist on an old formula a la the recently released Serenity, or just stick to doing things by-the-book like here? Garner propels the action forward even when the police hunt back plotting feels like utter padding, selling her T1 Sarah Connor turned T2 Sarah Connor with aplomb, right down to a suitably ripped, sweaty, dirty and blooded second act where she basically goes on a killing spree.
If there's anything Peppermint is guilty of, it's not quite going far enough. Whilst offering up plenty of bloody wounds to staple shut, lots of fun headbutting and Rebecca Ferguson's Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation and Fallout -style leg moves, as well as some truly satisfying John Wick-style point blank headshots, it's in dire need of a genuine challenge in the close-quarters-combat stakes (compare it to the brutal confrontations Charlize Theron faced in Atomic Blonde), eschewing meaningful plotting and genuine character depth (she goes to some pretty dark places, but Morel barely hints at the impact of them) but also holding back on the full metal fury that the action demands.
Despite the shortcomings, it's still curious that STX Films would choose such an odd release structure for the UK. Are we suddenly too discerning to qualify for this kind of film? Even on DVD? In an age where Redcon-1 gets a limited theatrical and then Blu-ray release, it's incomprehensible that this perfectly watchable revenge actioner would not only escape even the most limited theatrical release, and then fail to hit any kind of physical media formats in the UK, only to be unceremoniously dumped on Amazon Prime Video as its premiere. On the other hand, fans who subscribe to the streaming giant get a nice little Friday night actioner to watch in-house.
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