Mama’s gonna kick some serious booty. If you enjoyed the manic mayhem and vengeance of “John Wick” (2014), you might like “Peppermint.” Instead of Keanu Reeves in the lead, it’s Jennifer Garner (“Electra,” TV’s “Alias”) who credibly delivers street justice to so many evil-doers. The movie’s tagline: “The system failed, but she won’t.”
Let’s make this clear; the Academy will not be considering any mention of this shoot-em-up and it might not end up even in your top ten movies of the year. However, if your guilty pleasure is watching someone get even with a lot of bad people in the worst way, and believe us, it happens in the worst way, you won’t be disappointed.
Over the years, Garner has played a wide range of characters, but when in light comedy roles, her tender facial expressions often appear as if she’s ready to cry. Not here. As Riley North, she is cold, emotionless and steely-eyed in her unwavering mission against gangs, dirty cops, crooked judges and even haughty girl-scout moms.
Director Pierre Morel (“Taken”) delivers his first action feature set in the United States. Naturally, the setup and backstory are critical to the expected gratuitous violence. Screenwriter Chad St. John (“London Has Fallen”) begins the story with Riley as a warm and loving wife and mother. When a drug cartel wipes out her family and is then released by a crooked judge, she is now a woman with nothing left to lose and a lot on her mind.
It’s been said, “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” We now know that’s not necessarily true. Riley prepares and trains for five years to meet out punishment on her own terms. With well-executed and well-choreographed fight scenes, we watch Riley use brass knuckles, knives, bombs and military grade assault rifles as needed to avenge her family.
There is no subtle political message and actually no subtlety of any kind in this movie. However, there is a certain demented satisfaction watching an apparent victim slice, dice, kick, punch and otherwise maim a cadre of seemingly invincible dirt-bags. Riley explains to one of her targets, “You didn’t serve justice your honor, I will.”
Set in Los Angeles, the story is mostly predictable, but we root for the soccer mom to make it happen. To many, this is a violent escapist crowd pleaser. To others, it is a brutal slaughterhouse of unjustified butchery. Maybe they’re both right, but Garner is so persuasive and compelling in this role, it’s difficult to not see her as an avenging angel.
With the “Me Too” movement, it’s nice to see women in lead roles that many men, some not so deserving, have jockeyed for decades. Last year, the spectacular Charlize Theron thrilled us as the “Atomic Blonde” and we hope to see more. Speaking of seeing more, Garner was made to change clothes in her dressing room, even for modest changes, so the studio could be certain they were complying with all the new rules and regulations.
For this movie to work, Garner needed to be convincing as the vulnerable family woman as well as the resolute vigilante. She nails both by portraying an inner strength, dogged determination and a particular set of skills. She also displays credible reactions to deep physical and emotional pain that keeps her likable and even charming.
“Peppermint” is 102 minutes and rated R for strong violence and language throughout. It is a morbidly dark, brutal and bloody revenge thriller filled with racial stereotypes. Then again, in a somewhat warped way, it is exciting, stylish and enjoyable. Let’s face it; it’s not a bad thing to see someone get his or her comeuppance.
This feature carries a very high body count, but as they sometimes say, “Nobody gets killed that didn’t deserve it.” Okay, that’s not that nice, as it’s crucial for moviegoers to be able to separate real life from fiction. Then again, we’ve heard that in some rural areas, it used to be a valid murder defense to say, “He needed killin’.”
Ron’s Rating: C+
Leigh’s Rating: B