Movie Review: Garner Gets her Action Face back on for “Peppermint”

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Jennifer Garner shows she can still get a dirty, bloody, job done in “Peppermint,” an avenging angel action picture about a widow who lost husband and daughter to “The Cartel” and The System, and means to get her justice the hard way.

It’s a problematic, bloody exercise in formula from those throw-cash-at-stars and anything-at-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks scrap shooters at STX Films.

Counting “Mile 22” and “Happytime Murders,” “Peppermint” is their third turd in a row.

An over-scheduled, over-worked LA mom misses her daughter’s botched birthday party and she and the hubbie (Jeff Hephner) guilt-drag her to The Christmas Carnival to make up for it. Husband and child are murdered right before heroine Riley North’s eyes, just as she’s fetching peppermint ice cream from a food stall.

The cops (John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz) are leery about working this case too hard. Riley’s husband kind of got himself into something the The Cartel and its boss, named for the Indian Ocean island Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba).

The prosecution phones it in. The judge shrugs Riley’s positive ID’d suspects off. She should have taken the opposing counsel’s bribe, delivered with a smirk and a threat by Michael Mosley — nicely done.

Which is more than you can say about El Jefe. Raba has the Cartel mustache, the bulk to be scary, but he’s kind of a pussycat when it comes to murderous drug lords. What did Hitchcock say? “Good villains make good thrillers?” See where I’m headed, there?

Riley cannot know that when she robs the bank she works for, flees to Hong Kong where she takes up cage fighting (to train you understand) and masters every weapon America’s Equip an Army gun stores carry.

Really stupid idea number one, that she’d wait five years to begin exacting her revenge. Stupid idea #2, having her rob such a “military grade” gun store to carry out her scheme.

It’d be a real movie had this lame script thought to put her, overmatched and untrained, into “Death Wish” mode, improvising, stumbling. She should be picking up and stealing weapons from the scores and SCORES of Cartel mobsters, Korean gangsters and crooked cops she takes down, a “spree killer” who finds herself all over the news, and all over the streets as she is bloodied, repeatedly, and must perform that action film staple — “self surgery” — vodka for antiseptic and anesthetic, staples for deep cuts, more vodka for everything else.

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I enjoyed watching Garner get back to her “Alias” chops, cuts, slices, shots and head-butts. The editing makes you think she could do this stuff, and her reactions to pain — emotional and ammunitional, is genuine.

But it’s a silly slaughterhouse of a movie — bored cops who have no urgency about them, a cute FBI agent who wears high-higher-highest heels on the job (Annie Ilonzeh), adorable urchins who live on LA’s Skid Row with Riley, a place where she can lay low and nobody will know.

The funniest stuff, Garner’s forte, is Riley’s mission creep — the moment she takes to school a drunk whose little boy deserves better — “This is one of those life-altering moments!” — and her revenge on the Mean Mom who ruined her little girl’s birthday, the one on the night she was murdered.

The unfunny stuff, the sadistically gory stuff, is everything else. It’s so unpleasant and unchallenging that even Garner seems to play Riley as “OK, final scene here, let’s get this over with” in scenes that aren’t the final scene. And the final scene.

1half-star
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout

Cast: Jennifer Garner, John Ortiz, Juan Pablo Raba, Annie Ilonzeh

Credits:Directed by Pierre Morel, script by Chad St. John. An STX release.

Running time: 1:42

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