In two heartbeats, Riley North loses everything. Her husband and young daughter are gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The only thing that licks at her grief is justice. She stumbles out of the hospital to identify her assailants in a line-up, and then confronts them in court. But the justice system fails Riley (Jennifer Garner), and the killers walk free.
Contorted with rage and sadness, Riley disappears, and spends the next several years obsessing about revenge. When she resurfaces in Los Angeles on the 5th anniversary of her family’s murder, she’s got a plan, and she’s got the skills and weapons to see it through. First, a trio of dead gang members are found hanging, execution-style, from the carnival ride where Riley spent her last moments with her daughter. It’s a message to the city, to the cops, and to the criminals she holds responsible. She’s coming for them.
And for the next 24 hours her time (102 minutes our time), it’s a goddamned bloodbath. The cops don’t know how to stop her and the city rallies behind her, their angel, their vigilante.
Jennifer Garner steps very nimbly back into badassery, and it feels like the genre has missed her. Although her character benefits from movie magic as the bad guys politely wait their turn to attack, single file, never overwhelming or completely outnumbering her, she still feels somewhat real. Maybe it’s the mom in her that never dies – she’s a kamikaze filled with revenge lust, but she still remembers to buckle her seat belt. Maybe it’s because Garner is a fierce mama bear in real life, admirably so. Riley is tough, but she hasn’t forgotten her humanity. She is haunted by the ghost of her little girl but has a soft spot for all children, sometimes to her own detriment. Otherwise, she’s not playing around. She wears boots, not heels, because she means business. Does she maintain unrealistically cute beachy waves? She does. But her hair is dirty, and her body is coated in blood and grime and she basically goes through hell – twice.
Director Pierre Morel knows a little something about putting families in jeopardy – he’s the guy behind Taken. Peppermint has a certain visual style that’s fun to watch. Morel takes us to the gritty streets of Los Angeles, plants us firmly in skid row, and the wrong side of the boulevard, but he also has Garner shooting up a pinata shop in gleeful contrast. The action sequences are tight, the action is hot, and Garner has fun uttering the perfect one-liner as the body count multiplies.