Jennifer Garner kicks some ass in this mediocre action thriller

Peppermint is a pretty formulaic revenge flick by Taken director Pierre Morel, but some of its set-pieces and twists are worth the price of admission.

Jennifer Garner in Peppermint

Peppermint is the newest offering from Taken director Pierre Morel; it’s an action thriller with a gender role reversal, allowing Jennifer Garner to take the driver’s seat over Liam Neeson. Jennifer Garner plays Riley North, a soccer mom turned professional badass who is out for revenge after a drug cartel murders her husband and daughter.

The film starts with a violent and abrupt cold open and then flashes back five years to Riley’s life before the tragedy. After a confrontation with a competitive mother results in a disappointed birthday for Riley’s daughter (Cailey Fleming), Riley and her mechanic husband (Jeff Hephner) take their daughter to the Christmas fair and here we find out where the film gets its title. (Seriously though, what kid’s favourite ice cream is peppermint?)

It turns out that in an attempt to solve his family’s money problems, Riley’s husband had agreed to be a getaway driver for a man who plans to rob big-shot drug dealer Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba). When Garcia gets wind that the two men planned to steal from him, he orders to have them killed, resulting in Riley’s husband and daughter being gunned down by three of Garcia’s minions. When Riley awakens from a coma, she identifies the three gunmen. Predictably the justice system lets her down, freeing the men and thus kicking off Riley’s plan for epic vengeance.

Cut back to present day and Riley has showed up back in Los Angeles, with the FBI and the LAPD now hot on her trail. As it turns out, Riley North has spent the last five years working hard at becoming a professional ass-kicker, and thus violence and mayhem ensues.

Jennifer Garner got her career start in the hit TV show Alias. In Peppermint, she goes back to those action roots. Garner gives the film her all and there’s no denying she’s a solid action star who’s engaging to watch on screen. Despite the poor dialogue and weak character development, Garner does her best with what she’s given and delivers a solid performance.

John Gallagher Jr. and John Ortiz provide the investigation sub-plot as Detective Stan Carmichael and Moises Beltran. While Gallagher’s almost self-aware performance is enjoyable, Ortiz (who I personally loved in Togetherness) unfortunately barely pulls off the lackluster dialogue.

Another side narrative of the film suggests that Riley has reached past her initial goal of vengeance to help the destitute inhabitants of L.A.’s Skid Row. Perhaps this was an attempt to show that Riley’s values extend beyond simply killing the Mexican cartel, and maybe add a layer to an already pretty flat character. But this potentially interesting angle is unfortunately underused and barely explored.

Probably my strongest reaction to the film was boredom, to some extent due to how problematic the villains were. The portrayal of the evil “cartel” practically felt like a parody of itself; gold rings, face tattoos and plaid shirts with the top button done up. The first time we see the inner workings of the gang, there is a tracking shot through literally MOUNTAINS OF COCAINE. I mean, come on! While this is not the kind of film you go see for its moral nuances, any sane person would agree that the filmmakers could have tried a little bit harder with this grossly stereotypical portrayal.

The film offers some decent revenge set-pieces as well as some nicely choreographed fight scenes, but as much as the action is impressive on a technical level, it wasn’t particularly engaging or new, leaving the viewer unsatisfied. Despite its relatively short 104-minute run time, the film seemed to go on forever and I was left confused as to what point in the narrative we were at. The bland cinematography unfortunately didn’t help and included one too many lens flares for my liking.

If you’ve seen the trailer for Peppermint, you’ve pretty much seen the entire film. While it’s pretty formulaic, there were some semi-decent twists and turns and the final shootout showdown played out rather nicely in my opinion.

Peppermint is fairly predictable, for the most part unmemorable, and at times kinda racist, but if you want to see Jennifer Garner kick some ass, as well as staple up her own leg wound, Peppermint offers up both these things for the price of admission, but honestly not much else. ■

Peppermint opens in theatres on Friday, Sept. 7. Watch the trailer here: