Jennifer Garner made her name in Hollywood as an action star thanks to her amazing turn as Sydney Bristow in the Alias TV series. She went on to star in more traditional non-action roles post Alias, and has mostly shied away from action-oriented roles since becoming a Mother herself many years ago. Thanks to the debut of Peppermint though, which is a revenge film casting Garner as a Mother on a deadly mission of vengeance, she once again shines in an action heavy role. Unfortunately, due to a lightweight plot, the film ends up feeling more hollow than it should, so while Jennifer Garner executes her action-heavy role perfectly, the overall film feels pretty basic.
Peppermint’s plot is pretty simple. Jennifer Garner plays Riley North, a Mother and Wife that witnesses the drive by murder of her daughter and husband. After a corrupt criminal justice system allows for the killers to be set free, Riley takes it upon herself to get justice, so five years after the murder of her family, she returns with a whole new set of killer skills to get her revenge. And that she does with bloody efficiency as she strikes her Mexcian gang drug cartel targets from her refuge in L.A.’s homeless Skid Row camp.
Watching Garner physically beat the shit out of, as well as stab and shoot the shit out of scumbag gang members, never gets old in Peppermint. Honestly, outside of 15-minutes of setup, this whole movie is nothing but Riley hunting down and executing everyone involved in the murder of her family. She hangs dudes from Ferris wheels, breaks multiple bones, and expends more rounds of ammunition than a small army into the bodies of those who wronged her. Garner pulls off all of the intense gunplay and fisticuffs in an expert fashion, and she compliments the physical challenges of the role with the emotional ones well.
She is the highlight of the movie because of her acting skills, and does play a believable version of a distraught Mother who can also kick ass, but due to the plot having a major hole, most of the movie just feels like an unabashed shoot ’em up. Unlike other revenge films of this nature, Riley North had no prior training in the type of skills needed to hunt down an entire drug cartel by herself. She was a freaking banker and a Mom before her family was murdered, and then five years later she is on the same skill level — in terms of being a superhero-level tracker and killer — as the Punisher.
I believe the audience needed to see her transformation from working Mom to Terminator in some form. Even if it was a cheap montage of her being trained by military experts, or possibly a family member who was a Navy Seal or had training in professional assassinations. I mean there is no explanation for how Riley becomes a near invincible killing machine. She goes from running from an ambulance after having a near psychotic break, to easily killing an entire arm of a drug cartel by herself. It just doesn’t add up without any sort of hint or look at how she trained to become a modern day Rambo.
I would make the same critique if Riley was a male character too. I just find it odd that the plot completely glosses over this character’s drastic transformation from typical working Mom to a character that could go toe-to-toe with Denzel Washington’s character in The Equalizer franchise. Yes, we’re talking about a fictional movie, but with that being said you can’t just expect the audience to believe in a character transformation that is as dramatic as the one Riley North goes through in Peppermint with zero explanation. It was a weird narrative choice, and one that does ultimately make the film’s plot feel pretty weak and a bit porous.
Even with the glaring plot hole I’ve detailed above, I did still enjoy Peppermint, if only to see Jennifer Garner in a kick-ass action role again. She truly is one of the greatest, if not the greatest female action star of all-time, and this movie is a reminder that we’ve missed out on her talents in this genre for far too long. She’s so damn good at kicking ass and looking competent at doing it, that I can forgive most of the wonkiness that is Peppermint’s plot. It’s not a great movie, but it’s definitely entertaining, so if you’re a Garner fan I’d recommend a screening in theaters, otherwise this shoot’em up can wait for its home release.
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