Jennifer Garner first rose to prominence through her action-orientated work in both “Alias” and “Daredevil.” The former, a popular ABC spy series created by J.J. Abrams and co-starring a pre-fame Bradley Cooper, was the badass role that shot her to stardom in the first place. While her memorable turn in 2003’s would-be franchise-starter was at least popular enough to garner (no pun intended) an ill-fated spin-off film with “Elektra” only two years later, since then, beyond a supporting part in Peter Berg‘s mostly-forgotten “The Kingdom,” the actress has been featured, almost exclusively, in dramas and romantic comedies. Some better than others, admittedly, but none of them involving the punches and kicks that she once dished out. It’s a damn shame, especially since Garner had a solid knack for the genre she left behind. If only someone would allow Jennifer Garner to kick a butt or two again, in more ways than one. That’s where the initial promise of “Peppermint” first into play…

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It should be noted that Garner makes the most of her return to action. Committed and emotionally invested even when the film itself is rocky and indecisive, there’s no denying that Garner wants to sell “Peppermint” as best she can. But the trashy, undercooked, jumbled and insensitive screenplay by Chad St. John (“London Has Fallen“) provides no favors, nor does the rickety, unrefined direction by Pierre Morel (“Taken“) provide the nuance needed for this role to feel rich and meaningful. Opting for cliches and clutter rather than depth or simplicity, “Peppermint” is a meandering, uninvolving, profoundly bland action-drama with little-to-show for Garner’s efforts. It doesn’t have the slickness to make it pop as an action film, and it doesn’t have the wit to make it sing.

The vigilante film centers around Riley North (Garner), the loving, concerning mother of Carly (Cailey Fleming) and the wife of down-on-his-luck mechanic Chris North (Jeff Hephner), who has shady dealings with criminals which leads to his downfall and a terrible tragedy. On Carly’s birthday, the parents take their child to the local fair, only to end the night in bloodshed as a drive-by vehicle slays father and daughter leaving Riley left for dead. She survives, but at a terrible cost. Now, Riley wants revenge. A corrupt police system ensures such justice will not be dished out. At least, not in a law-abiding way.

Six years after the death of her family, Riley returns, and she exacts brutal, bloody vengeance. Leaving a trail of blood, the police track her moves as she kills her way across the city towards the cartel that caused the slaughter of her family. As the public begins to learn her entire story, people start to see Riley not as menace, but hero.

There’s no real distinction to this newest “Death Wish“-esque knock-off, notably in a year where we already had a bland remake of “Death Wish” — even though audiences rarely see a woman given this type of vehicle. Add into the mix the movie’s fetishization of gun culture and the white female lead’s tradition of killing and torturing people of color, and you can see why “Peppermint” might be a little inconsiderate in its approach, to say the very least. And that’s not even getting into the general sloppiness of the storytelling (written by Chad St. John), which is not only dumb and prone to cliches, it’s also just plain lazy. Plot threads are left dangling with abandonment; plot holes are large enough to feel welcome inside of Road Runner cartoon. In short, “Peppermint” is offensive in a significant number of ways, and there’s also little entertainment value to boot.

Jennifer Garner has proven herself to be quite a versatile, commendable actress, in both action and drama. Even when her character is paper thin and utterly transparent in her motivations, Garner seems to be giving it her all. However, “Peppermint” isn’t remotely substantial or meaningful. Maybe someday, Jennifer Garner will be given a project that proves her talents once again. For now, though, we’re left with “Peppermint”: a wretched action misfire that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. [C-]