After a decade of ‘mom roles’, the former Alias star still has it in her bones in Pierre Morel’s action thriller ‘Peppermint.’
Looking at Jennifer Garner’s IMDB page, it’s apparent that the action heroine has been pinned to a decade of nondescript maternal roles since 2007’s The Kingdom. Fans (including me) are itching to see her back to her element and this year, Taken director Pierre Morel creates a vehicle for that. The action-thriller is titled Peppermint – an ice cream flavor that only gets mentioned once in the film. It may seem irrelevant, but the sweet menthol candy actually works as a metaphor to Garner’s character as well as her dichotomous acting career.
She perfectly fits the profile of North Riley, a soccer mom turned into a justice-seeking vigilante. If Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken gets kidnapped and nearly gets sold in sex trade, in Peppermint, North’s daughter and husband gets brutally gunned down by a gang of thugs working for a Mexican drug cartel. Despite Riley being the star witness, the corrupt justice system sets the culprits free and even deems her as mentally unstable. Garner gives it all during a humiliating and soul-crushing courtroom scene and from that point on, you already give your stamp of approval to all the macabre things she’ll do five years later.
Call it a rip-off all you want but the main selling point of this film is to remind people that Garner can kick ass. And it doesn’t seem like she got rusty at all – she’s physically and emotionally at peak here. Peppermint does not focus on her supposed metamorphosis – her disappearance and training years are all summed up in one throwaway line – so the film can go right away for the jugular. The narrative jump and Riley’s transition into a lean killing machine can be sudden but with Garner selling the idea of a one-woman army so effectively, you’ll quickly get used to it. You know how these revenge stories work so let’s get into the bloody action shall we?
The ensuing skirmish is mostly composed of routinary shootouts and personally, I would love to see more hand to hand combat because that is Garner’s forte. One sequence happens at a piñata store and Morel can’t be bothered to inject more ingenuity in his proceedings. It still gets ultra-violent for maximum visceral impact, but in a genre headlined by John Wick’s elegantly-staged combats or Die Hard’s ambitious use of firepower, nothing here ends up truly remarkable. Actually, the estrogen element that comes along is what gives this film a slight edge.
It’s not all soulless vendetta and the film hasn’t completely lost touch of Riley’s humanity. Along the way, she meddles with a drunk, deadbeat dad to teach him a lesson – just like what Robert McCall of The Equalizer films would do.
Peppermint walks on a tricky tightrope of revenge stories. Most of the time, the resulting protagonist in this sub-genre is an anti-hero but you wouldn’t want a story that celebrates the immorality of its character nor a subplot that purely demonizes the villains to gain sympathy. North is a victim forced into action but the film conveniently reduces the villains to cardboard characters in an attempt to tip the scales of justice towards her favor.
The inherent disturbing subtext can be off-putting to some as the film goes against its own morals. Riley, in the beginning, tells her daughter not to go around punching bullies but now that she has nothing left to lose, she resorts to a killing spree. Ultimately, righteousness is based on what the majority thinks is right and not necessarily what is actually right. And there’s the film’s gray area that can’t please everyone.
Peppermint won’t score points for originality. I can only imagine what’s going on with writer Chad St. John’s head while conceiving its premise: ‘The Punisher and John Wick wants to have their justice, so why moms can’t have theirs?’ Hence, the birth of this film. Garner sure deserves a better material but considering that she delivers a standout performance worthy of recognition, better action roles are hopefully on their way soon.
3 out of 5 stars
Directed by Pierre Morel and written by Chad St. John, ‘Peppermint‘ stars Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, Cliff “Method Man” Smith, Richard Cabral, Annie Ilonzeh, Juan Pablo Raba, Tyson Ritter, Pell James, Jeff Hephner, Chris Johnson, Kyla Drew, Cailey Fleming, Michael Reventar
Run time: 102 minutes