Jennifer Garner kicks some butt in Peppermint

Peppermint. Directed by Pierre Morel. Starring Jennifer Garner.  Rating: 6 (out of 10).

Do not mess with moms.

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We’re particularly angry right now. Check out Moms Demand Action or MomsRising or MADD if you need proof that mothers are motivated and organized like never before. With the threat of dangers real and imagined landing on our news feeds on a daily basis, the time is perfect for Peppermint, starring all-American mom Jennifer Garner.

Garner plays Riley North, a happy wife and mother whose family is decimated by a violent crime. She wakes up from a coma devastated, but under the assumption that justice will be served. It’s not. Riley disappears for several years of training and preparation to avenge her husband and daughter.

There are a lot of people responsible, including the drug cartel members who committed the crime, the crooked cops who let it happen, the judges on the take. It isn’t a technicality that gets these criminals off, it’s a crooked system … a timely complaint. (Also timely is the online outrage from people who think that this may have not been the best time to portray Mexicans as murderers and thugs, when the U.S. president is portraying them as exclusively thusly in the media.)

Filmmakers lay enough emotional groundwork to make Riley’s transformation from suburban mom to vigilante killer believable for the audience; women rarely snap and execute clean kill shots without good reason, after all. Riley becomes like Charles Bronson in Death Wish: he tidied up the grimy streets of a pre-Giuliani New York City; our Riley is defender of the weak in a somewhat-cartoonish version of Los Angeles’ seedy side.

The actress, you may recall, comes by all that bad-assedness honestly: she cut her teeth as international spy Sydney Bristow in five seasons of TV’s Alias and she met her now-ex Ben Affleck while kicking his butt in 2003’s Daredevil (Garner later made what she could out of the awful, obligatory spin-off, Elektra). 

As someone near the age but in a different fitness galaxy than Garner, may I just take a moment to compliment the 46-year-old on looking more like a 20-something than most 20-somethings? (She’s had three children; is it possible to suck in stretch marks?) She punches, kicks, shoots, stabs and wields a variety of lethal weapons with ease, nailing often-complex stunt choreography as well as all the requisite emotion of a grieving mom wearing brass knuckles, unleashed on the world. 

There’s an especially explosive scene in a piñata factory, and a close-up smackdown in a car. Riley takes her lumps and keeps pushing through, albeit a little more battle-scarred and weary after each attack. “Watching somebody take everything from you turns you into somebody else,” she says.

Yes, it’s a little similar to Jodie Foster in The Brave One, and to John Wick and a half-dozen revenge films; there’s not much new material here, just fresh outrage to mine from the movie-going public. French film director Pierre Morel knows his way around an action film, though, having directed Taken, The Transporter, The Gunman and From Paris With Love, among other bullet-happy thrillers.

Morel gave Liam Neeson a second career as an action star at age 56. Let’s see if a mom gets the same consideration.

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