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edge staff writer


Revenge is a dish best served … minty? - ‘Peppermint’

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We’re still not used to female action stars.

Even as the gates are gradually opening and allowing women to take the lead in action movies, there’s still a degree of novelty to it. It’s unfortunate that that’s the case, although it is slowly getting better. Still, woman-driven action is still a relative rarity.

So when you see something like “Peppermint” come along, a revenge thriller featuring Jennifer Garner as a mother who lost everything and is willing to do anything and everything necessary to make those responsible pay dearly. It isn’t a shining example of the genre – it’s formulaic and lacks much in the way of perspective and/or visceral thrills. It head fakes toward a few message-type issues – feminism, class, the legal system – but never really strays from its fundamental potboiler-ness. And yet, it is extremely watchable, thanks mostly to a strong and believable performance from Garner and a frankly-impressive body count.

Garner is Riley North, a suburban mom living with her family outside Los Angeles who is trying her best. Financially, things aren’t great, but theirs is a loving family. There’s nine-year-old Carley (Cailey Fleming, “Desolation”), whose relationship with her peers is complicated by Riley’s issues with their parents. Husband Chris (Jeff Hephner, TV’s “Chicago Med”) is a mechanic whose friend is offering him a chance to make some life-changing money.

When word gets out about Chris being involved with this buddy’s scheme (which turns out to be stealing from a local drug lord), said drug lord – an aggressively-mustachioed psychopath named Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Roba, “Shot Caller”) – puts out the order for Chris to be killed. And so he is – gunned down at the winter carnival along with his daughter, while Riley is left in a coma.

Upon awaking, Riley tries to get justice for her family with the help of Detectives Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr., “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”) and Beltran (John Ortiz, “The Cloverfield Paradox”), but it soon becomes clear that Garcia has corrupted the system sufficiently to ensure that neither he nor his people pay for their crimes. Following the verdict, Riley snaps. Enraged and distraught, she disappears into the night.

Five years later, she returns. She has spent those years preparing single-mindedly for one single task: exacting revenge on everyone involved in the loss of her family, up to and including Garcia. She is armed to the teeth and ruthlessly efficient, carving her way through the L.A. underworld as she makes her way up the ladder. Meanwhile, Carmichael and Beltran – along with FBI agent Lisa Inman (Annie Ilonzeh, “Til Death Do Us Part”) – are left to pursue her, though each of them has their own deeper feelings regarding this vigilantism.

Riley North wants Diego Garcia – and she’ll do whatever it takes to get him. But she’s just one woman – is her training and determination enough to overcome an army of heavily-armed gangsters AND the numerous law enforcement agencies hunting her down?

You can probably guess the answer.

“Peppermint” is pretty standard fare as revenge thrillers go. You wouldn’t blink an eye if you saw Liam Neeson in a movie like this. Hell, you probably HAVE seen Liam Neeson in a movie like this. And that’s actually pretty cool if you think about it; we’ve reached the point where women can star in action-type fare that is just OK. The story isn’t much to speak of and most of the narrative beats are overly familiar and easily predictable.

That being said, Jennifer Garner is REALLY good. It’s the kind of performance that bumps a movie’s quality up a letter grade or so. “Peppermint” is a C/C-plus that likely would have barely passed without everything that Garner is bringing to the table. She does a remarkable job of making Riley feel genuine; there’s a wonderful plausibility to what she’d doing. It’s not surprising, considering she made her first Hollywood splash doing “Alias” and played Marvel assassin Elektra twice; even a decade removed, that easy comfort with action isn’t going away.

And man, does this movie pile up the bodies. Riley North kills, like, just a TON of people. She shoots them or blows them up, mostly, although occasionally she stabs them or crushes them if the situation calls for it. They’re not particularly gruesome by today’s standards, but they are certainly plentiful. There’s a gleefulness to it that is frankly one of the movie’s better qualities.

The supporting cast isn’t really living up to the standard being set by Garner. Roba is fine as big bad Diego Garcia, but that’s all you can really say about him. He’s a talented guy, but there’s zero depth the character – it’s tough to get blood from a stone. And truthfully, that sentiment spreads across the majority of the ensemble. There are talented folks here, and we get occasional glimpses of something better – Gallagher and Ortiz in particular find ways to ALMOST pull it off – but ultimately, they’re all done a disservice by the script.

“Peppermint” isn’t a great movie, but it’s a better movie than it probably should be. Garner’s performance is very good – so good that you wish you could see it in a better movie. Maybe next time.

[2.5 out of 5]


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