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'Peppermint' review: Revenge sweet for Jennifer Garner but not viewers

Jennifer Garner and Jeff Harlan appear in a scene from "Peppermint." / STXfilms

A bit of scout-troop snobbery gets the better of Riley North, a Los Angeles mom played by Jennifer Garner, in the opening minutes of “Peppermint.” After a tongue-lashing from a judgmental den-mother, Riley’s 10-year-old daughter, Carly (Cailey Fleming), suggests socking the woman in the kisser, but Riley responds as many of us would: “You can’t go around punching people who are jerks. Then you’re just as bad as they are.”

It might be true that violence never solved anything, but of course that’s why we have movies like “Peppermint.” In this revenge-thriller directed by Pierre Morel (2008's “Taken”), Riley transforms herself into a vigilante after the men who killed her husband (Jeff Hepner) and daughter are let off scot-free by a corrupt justice system. Riley is a typical hero — gender aside — whose righteous cause justifies her means. It’s a fantasy formulated to stoke our raging ids, and it has worked for many a Western, the “Death Wish” franchise and quite a few Mel Gibson movies, from “Mad Max” to “The Patriot.” In this genre, we crave just deserts, cruel irony and — let’s be honest — a satisfying twist of the knife.

None of that means much, though, if we don’t care about the characters. Neither the good guys nor the bad guys are very believable or interesting in “Peppermint,” whose perfunctory script is by Chad St. John (“London Has Fallen”). We know almost nothing about Riley, so her metamorphosis into self-taught Navy SEAL seems more silly than shocking. As for her unwise husband, it’s hard to feel sorry for an average family man who flirts with a local drug cartel and ends up getting his daughter murdered. Personally, I blamed him as much as I did Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), the kingpin who ordered the hit.

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Garcia, by the way, is a stereotypical Mexican criminal with exactly the accent and mustache you’d expect, while his henchmen are the usual tattooed toughs. (John Ortiz, an actor of Puerto Rican descent, at least gets to play a cop.) Some might suspect “Peppermint” of trafficking in the current politics of racism and fear-mongering — it is, after all, the story of a grieving white woman who guns down almost no one but Hispanics — but the movie feels more lazy than hateful. In fact, the movie doesn't have much passion or emotion at all. With its bloody but bland violence, “Peppermint” fails to deliver.