In lieu of the #MeToo movement and the call for more diversity in Hollywood, there have been a noticeable amount of female-led action films in 2018. Some big name talent have fronted diverse and interesting fare – Taraji P. Henson played an assassin with a heart in Proud Mary; Jennifer Lawrence was a deadly spy in Red Sparrow; Lara Croft was rebooted with Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider; and Ant-Man and the Wasp was a MCU film where Evangeline Lilly was actually the main superhero while Paul Rudd rode shotgun. Even Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon got in on the action trend with The Spy Who Dumped Me. The latest female-led action film is Peppermint, directed by Pierre Morel (Taken) and starring Jennifer Garner, an actress who knows a thing or two about action.

Peppermint is a revenge tale involving Riley North (Garner), a wife and mother whose husband (Jeff Hephner) and daughter (Cailey Fleming) are murdered by members of the Mexican cartel. Riley witnessed the drive-by and barely survived, but she was able to identify the killers, only to see them elude formal charges. Of course, corruption is at play and Riley is denied the justice and closure she deserves. Riley vows revenge and takes matters into her own hands and a violent one-woman war is waged against those responsible.

Conceptually, Peppermint is a combination of John Wick and The Punisher. Riley has lethal skills as an assassin and her talents stack up quite nicely with the some of the best action heroes. She’s tough as nails, relentless and unforgiving (at least towards the real baddies), but she has a somewhat soft side thanks to her time as a mother. Garner delivers in almost every respect despite the fact Riley isn’t written particularly well.

To be blunt, Peppermint offers nothing new. It’s a typical action film that offers a couple of boring plot twists and makes general observations of organized criminals. Even though Riley is a total badass, it’s tough to buy her transformation because she’s depicted as a normal everyday person. She’s not in law enforcement, doesn’t seem to have a military background and through flashbacks doesn’t use violence as the first option. Screenwriter Chad St. John hopes the pain and trauma heaped upon our main protagonist is enough to buy into Riley turning to vigilantism. The new version of Riley is impressive – she went into hiding and spent nearly 5 years training (another plot device which will hopefully sway audiences towards believability), but the transformation is simply too great to set aside. But St. John did do one thing right – he provided enough in the flashback for viewers to not only side with Riley, but actively root for her.

With that in mind, tropes readily abound from every character. St. John included the jaded cop, the idealistic cop, the corrupt cop, the corrupt judge, the jerk lawyer and, of course, the hothead drug lord. Even Riley is an amalgam of tropes – she’s written as an avenging angel protecting the helpless and weak from evil with no remorse. It makes for a paint-by-numbers feature that takes away from Garner’s strong performance (she’s the only reason to tune in). Well, veteran actor John Ortiz is good – his Det. Moises Beltran is the resident surrogate; the latest likeable and relatable character on a long list of likeable and relatable characters for the actor. Ortiz has made a career playing impressionable character actors and it’s good to see him leave an impression yet again. Outside of Garner and Ortiz, though, St. John can be remembered for providing a lazy script, much like he did for 2016’s London Has Fallen.

With Peppermint, you know what you’re getting. It’s a standard film with decent action and a protagonist who’s interesting because of her extreme transformation. There are some slight comedic jabs but things are largely taken seriously, almost too seriously. With typical tropes thrown in you have a not-terrible-but-definitely-not-great film anchored by a strong female who doesn’t have enough to overcome the weak support.

2.5 stars out of 5


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