When I watch a revenge movie, I simply want one thing: the protagonist to get their revenge. Seems like a pretty simple thing for the filmmaker to accomplish, right? Well, not lately. Over the past few years, I’ve felt a little bit blue balled by genre. They always start with a fantastic premise which ends up taking a backseat to something larger, leaving the revenge feeling unsatisfactory. I just want to see the protagonist shoot their wrong doer in the face! Is that too much to ask?!

Peppermint follows Riley North (Jennifer Garner), your typical suburban soccer mom type with a loving husband and daughter. When her husband gets down and dirty with cartel affiliated gang, he and their daughter end up gunned down. Due to a lack of evidence and a corrupt lawyer and judge, their killers go free, sending Riley into hysterics. She disappears, but five years later, people start turning up dead. Specific people involved in the murder of her family. It turns out Riley has returned with guns, knives, and most important of all: a vengeance.

Over the past few years, Jennifer Garner has made a career for herself as “the most mom actress of all time”. Since 2012, she has played a mom in 9 out of her 14 roles. She even plays Mama Llama in the children’s television series Llama Llama. In addition to that, she’s voicing a role for an upcoming animated movie where she’s credited simply as “Mom”. If anybody deserves an honorary Academy Award for “Finest Achievement in Maternal Performances”, it’s her. Especially so after Peppermint, where’s she’s not only a mom, but a bloodthirsty one looking for justice against the people who slaughtered her family. I’ve never really thought a whole lot of Garner, but I really enjoyed her in this role here. Since this is an action film, she gets a lot more range to work with, going from your average soccer mom in the beginning, into a deadly machine that has no problem sarcastically quipping into your face before putting a bullet into it.

Garner has everything where it counts, even in the action department. I never watched the show Alias, so my knowledge of her action prowess came from such terrible films like Daredevil and Elektra. It’s a lot of fun watching her take down her victims in various violent ways, and even better, the action is cleanly directed. It’s never confusing or distracting. We’re able to see Garner (and her stunt double Shauna Duggins) do all of the action. Funny enough, the choppy editing and quick cuts usually occur during the slower, more dialogue driven scenes, mostly to show some sort of fracturing mindset of our characters. It was never too obnoxiously stylish, nor too bland. Director Pierre Morel got the job done and he did it well, not shying away from the brutality of how the cartels operate and how Riley takes them out. We even see a kid get gunned down on camera from two different angles, which is the kind of grit you don’t seem to get anymore in major wide releases.

What we’re really dealing here is some trashy 1980’s, direct to video schlock that somehow got a decent star to headline it and get it into theaters. When we’re not following Riley on her brutal quest, we’re treated to the most cliché, exposition spouting cops you could imagine. This isn’t meant to be a character piece, of course, but aside from Riley, every other character exists to either move the plot forward, or explain something to the audience. We get all of the backstory and all of the current events, but nothing during the five-year gap, where Riley develops her skills. Instead of characters just telling us she trained in MMA, firearms, and all that, actually show us! Give us a little montage, or something. One aspect of the story is the homeless neighborhood Riley lived in to remain undercover, where she acts as a sort of protector, ridding it of crime. I much rather would have seen that story, as opposed to Boring Cop #1 reading the script to Bland FBI Agent #2. 

If it wasn’t for Garner’s strong performance, this all probably wouldn’t have been as entertaining. However, even if it’s predictable and cliché, Peppermint had an unabashed trashiness that I liked it. Morel and screenwriter Chad St. John knew what kind of film they were making and totally went with it. You’ll find no pretenses about violence not being the answer, or that you need to let the law enforcement do their jobs here. It is what it is: Revenge. It’s schlocky, it’s brash, it’s kind of stupid, but when it comes to films like these, it’s all I really want. During the setup, I kept thinking, “I’m actually digging this. It better payoff.” Surprisingly, it did.


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