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Review: Jennifer Garner makes a disappointing return to crime-fighting in 'Peppermint'

Here’s the deal. Jennifer Garner, lovable and talented as she is, has been taking on softer, family-friendly roles. Her IMDb page includes some critical acclaim in the last five years with "Dallas Buyers Club" and "Men, Women & Children", but it’s become rarer and rarer that she agrees to a film that doesn’t involve talking cats ("Nine Lives"), a PG rating ("The Odd Life of Timothy Green") or, worst of all, a multi-story feature by Garry Marshall ("Mother’s Day").

She has a family now – three kids and one extremely needy almost-ex-husband – and the projects she’s taken reflect that: they are light and fun and often morally firm. So it comes with great surprise that Garner passed on who knows how many Christian miracle movies to return to her "Alias" roots with "Peppermint", a befuddlingly shallow film that may check all the boxes of a revenge-plot action movie, but fails to commit to it in any interesting or innovative way.

Though I’m not yearning for the feel-good, straight-to-DVD flicks she didn’t do because of this role, I am disappointed she’s making her crime-fighting comeback like this. It is a completely different kind of hole-some than we’re used to associating with Garner.

This time around, the “hole” is in the plot, and when the credits finally roll, we definitely do not want “some” more.

"Peppermint" is a weak copy of "Taken" (they share the same director, Frenchman Pierre Morel), except Garner’s Riley North isn’t searching for her kidnapped daughter; she’s seeking revenge for her murder by a Mexican cartel. Yes, you read that right. The Mexican cartel. Because it’s nearly a given if you live in LA, you’re going to be killed by a band of drug lords.

For the record, I have no doubt that the cartels are as vicious and cruel as they are portrayed in films. However, the premise that a jefe would send men to publicly – at a fair, beneath the lights of the Ferris wheel, no less – execute a man and his family because he had tentatively agreed to be a driver in a no-brain, still hypothetical scheme to rob them is...a stretch.

His wife, who survives, is an otherwise completely ordinary mother who abhorred violence and was struggling to balance work and life. With her family abruptly gone and any chance of avenging them via the court system dashed, Riley snaps and disappears. For five years she travels the world where she learns how to be a ninja-soldier-assassin with superhero skills and the uncanny ability to dodge bullets. On the anniversary of her family’s murder, she returns to LA and kills everyone who was involved, both the men who committed the act and the bureaucratic few who helped cover it up.

Is it possible? Sure. Films are meant to stretch the realm of possibility and force us to use our imagination. The beef I have here is with Riley’s evolution. Because it doesn’t exist. We see Riley as either the grieving mother who has a breakdown in court or as the cold and calculating angel of Skid Row.

How did she acquire her crime-fighting skills? How did she learn to shoot a gun? How did, a former bank teller, learn to staple up her open wounds? Or jerry-rig a homemade bomb? Or gain the strength to string three dead men by their ankles?

These are all questions that, had they been answered in any sort of way, may have provided us insight into her character. Perhaps she would make sense and perhaps we would believe her journey. As it stands, she went from zero to Liam Neeson without so much as a “Martial Arts for Beginners” class at the local community college, making it a jolting jump for the audience to make.

Other ridiculous highlights? Riley visits the home of her former nemesis, only to tie her up, scare her a little and borrow a feminine hygiene pad to use as a bandage over a gushing stab wound in her abdomen. That interlude was nearly as ludicrous as the many tacky wigs Garner was forced to don throughout the film.

The acting isn’t all terrible, though it ain’t winning any Oscars. The set design works. Otherwise, I struggle to find anything I enjoyed about this film. It feels, for lack of a better analogy, like a square wheel. We chug along, each scene leaving unwanted ringing in our ears from the edge slamming into the ground. Just when we get comfortable, the next jarring, painful turn is waiting around the next turn.