In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there weren’t many women kicking ass on television. There had been several of them on the big screen, from Pam Grier in “Foxy Brown” to Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens” to Michelle Yeoh in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to Bridget Fonda in “Point Of No Return” to Carrie-Anne Moss in “The Matrix” to Linda Hamilton in “Terminator 2.”
But not on TV — until Jennifer Garner starred in “Alias” on ABC from 2001 to 2006. While the series’ plot became denser and less comprehensible every year, Garner still had a unique position in our living rooms, and the camera loved her.
Right around the time “Alias” went off the air, Hollywood put killer women back to work in movies, led by Angelina Jolie in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” and “Salt.” Since then, we’ve seen Uma Thurman in two chapters of “Kill Bill,” Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in a bunch of Marvel movies and, of course, the two biggies of the last couple of years, Charlize Theron in “Atomic Blonde” and Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman.”
As her TV series was winding down a dozen years ago, Garner took her own shot at big-screen action with “Elektra,” a spinoff of hubby Ben Affleck’s “Daredevil,” but neither one did enough box office to warrant any sequels, so that was the end of that.
Until now. This weekend, Garner tries to reclaim her position in the buff-woman-with-skills movie world with “Peppermint.”
She plays Riley North, a young professional woman whose life is ripped apart when gangbangers kill her husband and daughter while the family’s out celebrating the kid’s 10th birthday. The cops catch the bad guys, but the system fails her, so Riley becomes one revenge-minded vigilante out to settle the score (wow, I’m starting to sound like the ad copy for this movie).
Forget about how she went from an everyday bank employee to a gun-and-knife-toting killing machine in a Linda-Hamilton-like t-shirt complete with rippling biceps. You just have to suspend your disbelief for a hundred minutes and not ask many questions about the multiple holes in the plot (I lost track of how many times I thought, “Why would she…?”). If you can do that, you’ll go along for the ride with Garner, who still has the same commanding screen presence she did nearly two decades ago.
Riley isn’t as clever as her old “Alias” character Sydney Bristow was, and neither is screenwriter Chad St. John (can that possibly be his real name?), who was also responsible for the dreadful Gerard Butler sequel “London Has Fallen.” But director Pierre Morel knows this genre pretty well, considering he’s the one who turned Liam Neeson into an action star with the first “Taken” movie a decade ago. It’s all pretty workmanlike yet effective if, again, you don’t dig too deep.
I have different expectations when I go to a movie like “Peppermint” than I do for something like “BlacKkKlansman” or “Eighth Grade” — the bar is set lower, so I’m not as disappointed as I would be if I assumed I was about to see great moviemaking. If you do the same, you’ll probably enjoy “Peppermint.”
I give it a 6.5 out of 10, which puts “Peppermint” right up there with “Skyscraper” and “The Commuter,” and it’s good to see Garner rejoining the Butt-Kicking Women Brigade.