The 1970s revenge movie never entirely went out of fashion, but it's still making something of a comeback. Add to the recent "Death Wish" remake "Peppermint," whose main novelty involves giving mothers equal time in the vigilante department, casting Jennifer Garner as the righteous avenger. Aside from the awful name, it's a wholly ridiculous, ill-timed movie.
Garner, notably, isn't to blame for that, and having cut her teeth as an action star on the TV show "Alias," she's perfectly convincing inflicting mayhem. Still, the actress deserves better than a poorly aged plot that hinges on a corrupt justice system favoring criminal defendants, allowing murderers to walk away scot-free and unleashing the protagonist's fury on Hispanic drug dealers, whose dialogue, other than its leader, is largely confined to a few curse words and groans.
Director Pierre Morel -- best known for the first "Taken" -- certainly has a way with visceral action scenes, and he doesn't waste much time on niceties like backstory or developing characters. After a violent opening sequence, a flashback introduces Garner as Riley North, who watches her husband and daughter get gunned down by the aforementioned gang, followed by her palpable dismay when the courts fail to dispense justice.
Five years later, Riley has somehow transformed herself from a working mom -- grudgingly fretting about cookie sales -- into a cross between Marvel's The Punisher and Rambo, hellbent on revenge. And while the ruthless drug kingpin ("Narcos'" Juan Pablo Raba) sits atop her hit list, let's just say there are a lot of people in between who are going to need to die in order for her to reach him.
As noted, there's nothing particularly complicated about the thrills Morel intends to provide, and they're delivered on a mindless, videogame-type level, with the heroine enduring plenty of punishment even as she dishes it out.
Unfortunately, the script, such as it is, badly overreaches, incorporating local news coverage that elevates Riley into some sort of folk hero -- a wrinkle that's as silly as it is out of place given the general tone, yielding unintentional chuckles. And even allowing for the conventions of the genre it's difficult to completely divorce the cartoonish racial component from the current political climate, unfolding against a backdrop of Los Angeles that's more dystopian frontier than functional metropolis.
Garner has another project coming close on the heels of this one, starring in the HBO comedy "Camping," which premieres in October. However that series turns out, it would be nice if it was good enough to help erase the bad taste that "Peppermint" leaves behind.
"Peppermint" premieres Sept. 7 in the U.S. It's rated R.