2021 | rated R | starring Kate Beckinsale, Stanley Tucci, Jai Courtney, Bobby Cannavale, Laverne Cox | directed by Tanya Wexler | 1 hr 31 mins |
Jolt has an absolutely ridiculous premise that only exists to set up it’s finale. Typically movies go through steps and plot turns to get from the hook to the finale, but not Jolt. It’s one of a collection of this summer’s female-driven action movies, from Karen Gillian’s ass-kicker Gunpower Milkshake (an obnoxious movie with one great scene) to Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s hookless brawler Kate. We’re talking Jolt today because unlike those films, this one drops below mediocre to be bad in an interesting and perplexing way.
Lindy Lewis (Kate Beckinsale) had an anger management problem as a child, so much so that her parents enrolled her in a mental institute where they find her adrenaline makes her stronger and faster and prompting the doctors to conduct a bizarre electrical experiment on her. Today, Lindy works as a bodyguard with an electrode vest built by her psychologist (Stanley Tucci) wired into her spine. She meets a guy whose halfway decent (Jai Courtney), he dies and she goes on a violent revenge spree through the criminal underworld with the useless genre cops (Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox) on her tail.
At first glance, Jolt might sound like Crank, the Jason Statham movie where he keeps his heart pumping by powering himself with electricity. Except here, Kate Beckinsale is de-powering herself with electricity. A reversal of a film hook that fundamentally undermines the story. In a version where someone is super-powered by electricity they would have to keep their vest on, away from villains and find sources of electricity. In that movie we would see her life working because of the vest for a little bit so that it actually seemed like the solution to a problem instead of an immediate set-up for the conflict. In that movie you might even have a 3rd act raise of the stakes where the bad guy’s get a hold of her vest and she is forced to think of a way to defeat them without it. That would create an opportunity for character growth, which this movie is not interested in. In Jolt, Lindy’s natural state is super powered and all she has to do is… not push the shock button.
Gunpower Milkshake, and especially Kate (which might be the best of these movies in faint praise), have an interest in building an action scene, Jolt doesn’t even seem to care about that. We get a scene where Lindy starts fighting a mobster’s “two best men” before he calls off the fight, an electrical testicular torture scene that gets cut away into and a car chase where Lindy drives kind of fast. The most unintentionally bizarre moment is a darkly lit hallway fight where the bad wig Beckinsale has been wearing the entire film hides the face of her stunt double for the entire course of a 2 minute fight. It’s not clear Beckinsale was anywhere near the set for half of this stuff – which probably explains why this dumb little movie has so many big name actors and even bigger cameos. The movie is structured to give several of these actors just a scene or 2. They come in for a day get paid a nominal fee and director Tanya Wexler gets a star-studded list of names for the credits. Bait. Switch.
Kate Beckinsale has been doing this for a while. Star of the Underworld series, Beckinsale is on the 2000’s Mount Rushmore of female action heroes with Angelina Jolie and Mila Jovovich – long after Sigourney Weaver in Alien and long before Marvel claimed they invented the first female action hero in Captain Marvel. Beckinsale gives the film some attitude and pulls off it’s sarcastic one-liners. Lindy’s inner quest to date, overcome her own fears she might be a monster and have a normal life are interesting. The movie even has an effortless gender-reversal, with Lindy not being annoyed by her dates, but gripping the knife ready to stab the waitress who hassles him. Where every other female-driven movie has our heroine fight for herself, she is fighting for love. It’s different by being traditional. However, Beckinsale looks visibly tired of this crap and is as uncommitted as every other actor in here. Eye-balling the paycheck.
Jolt thinks it has a clever premise and a dog shock collar metaphor, when instead it’s very gimmick undermines the movies ability to raise stakes and deliver a properly satisfying set-up and payoff structure. It’s junk action dropped into a stock criminal underworld story. An indie film that’s just as cynical and slapped-together as the big studio ones.