Peppermint
Directed by Pierre Morel
Starring: Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout
1 hr., 42 mins.

I’m not one to complain about film genres. If a film is good — i.e., well-directed, well-written, well-acted — I can appreciate it on its own merits.

There is one genre, however, that I find disturbing. I call it the “vigilante” category. Main character is wronged in some fashion and returns to kill the offenders. Think of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns or Dirty Harry character, Charles Bronson films, even the Jason Bourne series. The justice system is either rigged or inept. The government is running amok behind the scenes. The only alternative is for the victim to kill the killers.

Peppermint is in that category, with enough weaponry and bloodshed to fill a warehouse. It plays on your sympathies as a means to justify a wide swath of death against crooked law enforcement, bribed attorneys and judges, and members of drug cartels. But really, the film is intended to glorify violence and to turn payback into entertainment.

Riley North (Jennifer Garner) is a middle-class suburban mother whose husband, Chris (Jeff Hephner), runs an automotive repair business. He’s being solicited by his friend Mickey (Chris Johnson) to get involved in a scheme that would skim money from a Mexican drug cartel.

Even though Chris turns down Mickey’s offer, the drug cartel finds out who he is and decides to take out him and his family. While Chris, Riley and daughter Carley (Cailey Fleming) are at a Christmas carnival, three cartel members gun them down in a drive-by shooting.

Riley survives and identifies the shooters to detectives Moises Beltran (John Ortiz) and Stan Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.). The shooters, however, are released by a judge who claims there’s not enough evidence to go to trial. The district attorney does not object.

As Riley eventually learns, they’re all in the pockets of the drug cartel. The justice system is corrupt. She has no hope of seeing her family’s murderers go to jail. Riley protests vehemently in the courtroom and escapes as she’s being carted off to a mental institution.

She reappears five years later on the anniversary of her family’s murder. During that time, she’s learned how to fight, how to handle weapons and how to disappear when necessary. She’s a one-woman wrecking crew living in downtown Los Angeles’ skid row. What does she want? As she hisses to one drug lord during a fight to the death, “I want justice.”

French director Pierre Morel is no stranger to action films. Having helmed From Paris With Love and the first Taken, he knows how to put his foot to the pedal and keep it there. Once the shooting starts, there’s rarely a quiet moment.

The problem is in the story itself, which is thoroughly predictable and often ridiculous in terms of plausibility. But plausibility is not what this genre is about. The story is only a means to an end, a way to continue Riley’s ongoing revenge against judicial corruption and the involvement of the drug cartel in her family’s murder.

Garner, a talented actress, is admirable in her athletic ability, but it’s a fine line to draw between sympathy and blood lust. The story tries to remind us of her vulnerability while allowing her to shoot, stab and bomb her way through a day’s worth of revenge. It doesn’t work well. Then again, you have to ask if the director and writer really care.

If you are a fan of this genre, then my opinions probably won’t amount to a cup of beans. There’s a fan base here and that’s the reason these movies get made. But if you have any sensitivity to morality or even reason, Peppermint will just exhaust you with violence. Better to find the television show Alias, which made Garner a star in the first place, and watch her in a much better action role. Peppermint will only leave a stale taste in your mouth.