While it’s fun to watch Jennifer Garner return to her action roots, the brute-force haymaker that is “Peppermint” is a far cry from the sophisticated thrills of “Alias.” Rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.
How to revive a movie star’s flagging career? Take up guns, obviously. Following in the time-honored tradition of “Taken,” “John Wick,” “Atomic Blonde” and “Death Wish,” Jennifer Garner arms up in the vigilante-mom action thriller “Peppermint.” That’s both literally and figuratively, as Garner sports some seriously sinewy shoulders — Garner’s guns come in both the semi-automatic and bicep variety.
But while it’s fun to watch Garner return to her action roots, the brute-force haymaker that is “Peppermint” is a far cry from the sophisticated thrills of “Alias.”
What distinguishes “Peppermint” from every other vigilante shoot-’em-up is this time our hero is a mom. Garner plays Riley North, a lower-middle-class Los Angeles bank teller with a family struggling to make ends meet. Her husband, Chris (Jeff Hephner), a mechanic, entertains the idea of driving the getaway vehicle in the robbery of a powerful drug dealer, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), which earns a hit on his name. Chris and their daughter, Carly (Cailey Fleming), are gunned down in front of Riley, at a Christmas carnival no less. When the thugs walk, thanks to a corrupt judge and lawyer, she disappears, only to pop up five years later. Those who wronged her start turning up dead, too.
In “Peppermint,” Riley takes up the tools of the oppressors to enact her revenge, methodically stalking everyone who denied her justice while working her way to Garcia. But is it empowering? Hardly. There is some small satisfaction in watching her torture the judge. But mostly you wonder, why stoop to their level?
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“Peppermint” exists in a realistically diverse Los Angeles, but it relies on tired, xenophobic gang stereotypes as fodder for Riley’s murderous maternal rage. Hollywood made some important strides in representation this year, but in that regard, “Peppermint” feels like a relic from another era.
★½ “Peppermint,” with Jennifer Garner, Juan Pablo Raba, Jeff Hephner, Cailey Fleming. Directed by Pierre Morel, from a screenplay by . 102 minutes. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout. Opens Sept. 7 at multiple theaters.