PEPPERMINT review by Mark Walters – Jennifer Garner is kicking butt on the big screen again

PEPPERMINT review by Mark Walters – Jennifer Garner is kicking butt on the big screen again

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Director Pierre Morel made Liam Neeson a beloved action star with TAKEN, and he might just do the same thing for Jennifer Garner with the new action thriller PEPPERMINT. Now granted, Garner is no stranger to action scenes, thanks to her extensive run on the TV series ALIAS, and her portrayal of Marvel’s Elektra in DAREDEVIL and the ELEKTRA solo movie, but it’s safe to say we haven’t seen her do this sort of thing in quite a while. At 46, she’s spent more time being a mother than an actress these days, but it’s actually quite refreshing to see her back in a leading role, even if the narrative is fairly predictable.

Riley North (Garner) is a hard-working mother trying to juggle time with her daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming) and equally hard-working husband Chris (Jeff Hephner). In one early scene, we find Riley and Carly struggling with selling girl scout cookies on another neighborhood girl’s turf, only to have that girl’s wealthy mother berate her and tell her off. Carly suggests her mom should have punched the harsh woman in the face, but Riley just smiles and brushes it off. We then learn that Chris is entertaining the idea of pulling some sort of shady gig with a work buddy, in an effort to get some extra money, but his concern for his family leads him to walk away. Sadly, local drug lord Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), the intended target of that job, gets word about the men who were going to do it, and decides to send a message. While Riley and Chris are relaxing with Carly at the local fair, enjoying some peppermint ice cream, a drive by shooting violently takes all three of them out, with only Riley surviving the hit.

She accurately identifies the three men who committed the crime, but crooked lawyers and judges prevent them from being convicted, and the tables turn on her as the judge recommends she be submitted to a psych ward. Riley escapes, and five years go by, then suddenly the men responsible start turning up dead. The Los Angeles Police Department team with the FBI to figure out who is behind these vigilante killings, and determine it could be Riley North back for revenge, after years of training to fight and kill. And to make matters worse, it seems Diego Garcia (now more powerful after years in practice) has someone on the inside of the police force feeding him info, making himself even harder to get to for this determined avenging angel.

While this movie is directed by Pierre Morel, and certainly has similarities to TAKEN in different areas, the story is more similar to THE PUNISHER or DEATH WISH, and feels very familiar and somewhat by-the-numbers. Garner is quite good playing Riley North, though the film does seem to gloss over certain story aspects that could have fleshed her out a little more. Her family life, as one example, is rushed through to get to the action quicker, but we certainly could have used a little more time with her husband and daughter to give their killings more weight. Despite that, it’s a testament to Garner’s acting that she’s still able to sell the emotional moments as effectively as she does. There are at least two scenes in the film that I found myself getting choked up while watching, so the emotional moments are definitely well done.

But let’s face it, you’re going to see this movie to watch Garner kick the bad guys’ butts for a few hours, and it absolutely delivers that. There are even a few scenes were you’ll likely be impressed as you can clearly see it’s Jennifer and not a stuntwoman doing some pretty intense stuff as the bullets are flying. Some of the script’s aspects are a little clunky, such as the concept of a newbie police detective (a somewhat bland John Gallagher Jr.) seemingly trying to be sympathetic toward Riley, or the idea of a crooked cop in the department to keep the audience guessing. But the one aspect that really feels like it could have been handled better is the villain, played by Juan Pablo Raba. It’s not that Raba was bad, he’s a serviceable foil for our heroine, but there was an opportunity to do something unique and original with the baddie here, and instead we just get a cookie-cutter antagonist who feels like he could have walked out of any other movie just like this. There’s even a tiny moment late in the film that almost makes it inspired and special, but it’s forgotten so we can have a big shoot out of an ending.

All that said, PEPPERMINT is still quite entertaining, even when it’s easy to predict. There are scenes where you can easily guess what’s coming next, but Garner’s enthusiasm and earnest performance makes up for the shortcomings. While the film itself doesn’t offer anything new, it’s a well-done bit of female empowerment in an age when we’ve seen too many of these types of movies with male leads. It might also be the start of a TAKEN-like franchise for Garner, and I honestly wouldn’t mind if that happens. Don’t expect anything out of the ordinary, but if you like action movies with a more violent flare, PEPPERMINT comes across as fairly satisfying for what it is.

PEPPERMINT opens September 7, 2018

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.