Movie Review: Peppermint

Peppermint is the same movie we’ve seen dozens of times before, but with a singular twist: this time it’s a woman.

Jennifer Garner plays Riley North, our vigilante heroine, who takes on a Los Angeles drug cartel after her family was murdered. This revenge thriller subgenre has been recently elevated by Keanu Reeves and David Leitch in John Wick, and even by Denzel Washington in The Equalizer,  but this just simply does not live up to that same level.

Instead, it plays out much like a middling revenge thriller with all of its tropes generally intact. Except for one– because in this instance it’s the husband who gets “fridged” instead of the wife. We also get John Gallagher Jr sporting the most 70’s cop mustache seen on film in forty years playing your incredibly typical cop. It’s not bad, just predictable.

Many years ago Jennifer Garner starred in what is likely the worst film based on a mainstream comic book character in recent memory: Elektra. That was a mess, but this film shows what might have been done with Garner in a lead role taking on a bunch of baddies as a badass assassin. She fills that role perfectly, and her recent off screen super heroic actions also help build cache and audience buy-in as we root for her to take down the bad guys. This is a return to form for Garner who first broke out in this type of role in Alias and a reminder of her formidable presence and action star skills that Hollywood recently seems to be ignoring in favor of putting her in more typical “mom” roles.

Back to Elektra– the comparison to comic book movies is not far afield, as the film this most fully resembles is The Punisher starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta. It is not a surprise that our screenwriter, Chad St. John, wrote the Punisher short film Dirty Laundry. . . as well as London Has Fallen. This film’s pedigree also includes director Pierre Morel, who made the first Taken film. Strip away any of that film’s uniqueness and you have that same sort of by the numbers over the top action violence, but that doesn’t make it altogether unenjoyable to watch.

Indeed, many of the action scenes have a glimmer that makes you wish this film was just ever so slightly better. The film also tries to tease out a few subplots around social media use and the epidemic of homelessness currently facing many cities in America but especially Los Angeles, but fails to really land any of them.

What we’re left with is a lot of unmet potential — and in an era where we have John Wick (or Atomic Blonde), this just doesn’t quite measure up. However, it’s certainly better than most of the films that Garner has recently been in, and it would be great to see more of her in these action roles — and generally more women out in front of action films playing the roles that are normally reserved for our Bruce Willises, Liam Neesons and Charles Bronsons.

This is a proof of concept that women can play these roles just as well as men, and a showcase for Garner’s skills as an action star which should be taken more advantage of, but the film never breaks out of its tropes.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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