ShareThis Page
Review: Jennifer Garner’s ‘Peppermint’ takes on the wrong nemesis |

Review: Jennifer Garner’s ‘Peppermint’ takes on the wrong nemesis

How to revive a movie star’s flagging career? Take up guns, obviously.

Following in the time-honored tradition of “Taken,” “John Wick,” “Atomic Blonde” and “Death Wish,” Jennifer Garner arms up in the vigilante mom action-thriller “Peppermint.” That’s both literally and figuratively, as Garner sports some seriously sinewy shoulders — Garner’s guns come in both the semi-automatic and bicep variety.

But while it’s fun to watch Garner return to her action roots, the brute force haymaker that is “Peppermint” is a far cry from the sophisticated thrills of “Alias.”

Directed by “Taken” helmer Pierre Morel, written by “London Has Fallen” screenwriter Chad St. John, what distinguishes “Peppermint” from every other vigilante shoot-em-up is, this time, our hero is a mom. Motherhood defines who she is and what she does, which is both her strength and her weakness, and often, it’s somewhat limiting.

But just because the vigilante happens to be America’s PTA mom, Garner doesn’t make the wanton displays of unchecked violence any less icky.

Methodical revenge

Garner is Riley North, a lower-middle class Los Angeles bank teller with a family struggling to make ends meet. Her husband, Chris (Jeff Hephner), a mechanic, entertains the idea of driving the getaway vehicle in the robbery of a powerful drug dealer, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), which earns a hit on his name. Chris and their daughter, Carly (Cailey Fleming), are gunned down in front of Riley, at a Christmas carnival no less.

When the thugs walk, thanks to a corrupt judge and lawyer, she disappears, only to pop up five years later. Those who wronged her start turning up dead, too.

In “Peppermint,” Riley takes up the tools of the oppressors to enact her revenge, methodically stalking everyone who denied her justice while working her way to Garcia. She brutalizes men for their behavior, and there is a frisson of feminine rage that electrifies the otherwise dour proceedings.

But is it empowering? Hardly.

Rightful criticism

There is some small satisfaction in watching her torture the judge, a representative of state institutions who failed her family (and likely many others). But mostly you wonder, why stoop to their level?

The trailer for “Peppermint” garnered rightful criticism for what looked to be distressingly problematic representations of Latinos as drug-dealing, face-tatted thugs stalking white families, and the film unfortunately delivers that.

“Peppermint” does exist in a realistically diverse Los Angeles, but it relies on tired, xenophobic gang stereotypes as fodder for Riley’s murderous maternal rage. She eradicates crime on Skid Row while defending homeless kids and threatens an alcoholic man into cleaning up his act for his son, but that reverence for human life is not extended to any of the men she shoots at point blank range with large-caliber weapons.

Hollywood made some important strides in representation this year, but in that regard, “Peppermint” feels like a relic from another era.

The true enemy

The issue is Riley doesn’t think big enough. The low-level gangsters aren’t her enemy. Her true enemy is a system of income inequality driven by hyper-capitalism, and the myth of the achievable American dream that would push her husband to even consider committing a robbery.

She gets a small bit of comeuppance at the 1 percenters when she tortures a snobby rich mom who used to torment her, but that’s not even her real nemesis. Why doesn’t Riley go after the bank that overworked and underpaid her?

Unfortunately Riley, and by extension, “Peppermint” just doesn’t get it.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service writer.

Getty Images
Jennifer Garner attends the Aug. 28 premiere of STX Entertainment’s “Peppermint” at Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE Stadium 14 in Los Angeles.
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.