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Movie review: Garner's new action role falls flat

Jennifer Garner stars in "Peppermint," now showing in Duluth.

Jennifer Garner made her mark in the early '00s as Sydney Bristow, an international spy in ABC's "Alias." Then came a sai-wielding assassin in red in "Elektra." Now, Garner's back to kick some A in "Peppermint."

She plays Riley, the last living member of a family slain by gang violence, and she's reliably convincing in dimpled levity and grief. Here, Garner flips from soccer mom to murderous vigilante with expert skill. See: court scene to witness explosive, loafer-wearing rage.

"Peppermint" parallels "Kill Bill" in its coma-to-revenge storyline, and while you may be sympathetic to Riley's loss and cause, there's something off.

Most of the victims and villains are Latinx members of a California drug cartel. They're one-dimensional, kinda racist caricatures at the hand of screenwriter Chad St. John ("London Has Fallen"), and their portrayal also lacks the cunning to convince that they're criminal masterminds. An extra letdown, as Garner deserves a worthy opponent.

Juan Pablo Raba as crime lord Diego Garcia is flat with a paper-thin ego, portrayed, maybe unnecessarily, as a domestic abuser.

Some acting notice comes on the law enforcement end. John Ortiz is Detective Moises, a complacent, dead-inside-but-coming-alive detective; he's crotchety, graying and to the point. His evolution piques some interest. John Gallagher Jr. skillfully emulates a quizzical and weak constitution as Detective Stan. Annie Ilonzeh is just fine/there as an FBI agent also getting a second wind. You wonder if casting was also a subtextual dig at the justice system. Either way, it feels like a disservice.

"Taken" director Pierre Morel knows how to work an action scene, but save for some CGI flames, nothing much stands out from the camera lens. Film editor Frédéric Thoraval weaves together prime fisticuffs, and Garner performs physical feats with ease, impressive delts and an almost too-stiff (wig?) side part.

Garner's known for her oozing charm and intense ferocity on camera. She's easily the No. 1, and only, selling point in a film that can't keep up and feels a little confused in its messaging.

In a scene where Riley and Diego square off, she urges him to "get his hands dirty" versus having a subordinate shoot her. Soon, she spits out: "You hit like a girl." If he hits like a girl, who does Riley hit like?

In another scene, Riley says she's doing this all for justice, but in this film and in today's atmosphere especially, "Peppermint" seems to give an obtuse and tone deaf view on who gets to decide guilt and consequences.

During a late-afternoon viewing, audience members laughed over a foiled money laundering scene. When director Morel does break from violence, Garner's delivery is spot on, but there's not much for comedic reprieve here.

"Peppermint" does break from the seeming action movie standard, clocking in at closer to 90 minutes than two hours. If you're awaiting the return of Garner breaking bones and taking names, this may be a light time investment. But, you might be better served dusting off the old "Alias" DVDs.

Grade: D

"Peppermint"

Starring: Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz

Director: Pierre Morel

Screenwriter: Chad St. John

Time: 1:35

Rating: R

Now showing: Premiere, Duluth 10

Melinda Lavine

Lavine is a features and health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

(218) 723-5346
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