Jolt (2021)

You’re in for a shock.

Jolt stars the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale as Lindy, a slightly murderous woman with a serious anger-management problem. Taking its cues from the John Wick playbook, the movie is centered around a seemingly ordinary person with hidden lethal skills. However, unlike Wick (or his many copycat cousins) Lindy isn’t a former hitman or a highly trained soldier; rather, she’s a woman with an extraordinarily destructive streak. We learn about her rare, unstable neurological condition during the film’s prologue, where it’s explained that Lindy has something called intermittent explosive disorder or IED (apparently this is a real thing), her rage issues set off by her traumatic upbringing. As a result, Lindy spent most of her formative years locked up and isolated from the world while doctors and military bureaucrats tried to stabilize or pacify her ‘illness’ through extreme sports and other means.

Don’t Set Her Off

Dr. Ivan Munchin (Stanley Tucci) is the man responsible for developing Lindy’s ‘volt therapy,’ which has helped her curb and control her homicidal tendencies. You see, whenever somebody pisses Lindy off, it triggers her need to forcefully correct the offender (and quite brutally, too). With Dr. Ivan’s new tech, Lindy is able to give herself a jolt to pacify her homicidal urges anytime she gets irritated (and anything can blow her fuse — from the repeated tapping of a pen on a table to an offensive comment or remark). This treatment, although barbaric, has allowed Lindy to live a somewhat normal life; though, she stays away from people as much as possible. Of course, Lindy visits Ivan regularly, who tweaks her electrode device — she’s got a volt indicator (or a button) which she keeps wrapped around her hand for easy access, and an electro-lined vest rigged around her torso to administer the shock. Ivan also works as Lindy’s shrink, encouraging her to meet new people and get out more; she previously worked as a bouncer before her impulses got the better of her.

To try and fit in, Lindy attempts to go on a date; her first social engagement is with charismatic accountant Justin (Jai Courtney), whom she meets at a restaurant. However, their first meet-cute gets abruptly cut short because of a rude waitress and Lindy needing to discipline her. Their second encounter is much dreamier, and Lindy gets swept away by how down-to-earth and honest Justin is. The two discuss their respective pasts, and one thing leads to another. They eventually end up in Lindy’s apartment, where they hastily begin removing their clothes to get down and dirty. That’s where Lindy realizes that she’ll have to explain her voltage therapy electrodes to Justin when she undresses. It turns out that the Justin is pretty accepting, shrugging her condition off as ‘nothing serious.’ The following day, Lindy wakes to discover that Justin hasn’t skedaddled, realizing that she’d just spent a night free from the shackles of her painful therapy, experiencing no violent outbursts thanks to this one man.

‘Are the cuffs necessary?’

Disaster strikes when Justin is found dead late that evening. Lindy is requested to go to the police station where Detective Vicars (Bobby Cannavale) and Detective Nevins (Laverne Cox) question her and try to get some answers. However, Lindy quickly concludes that the cops aren’t going to prioritize the case and decides to take matters into her own hands, despite discouragement from Dr. Munchin. Thus, Lindy sets out on a revenge-fueled rampage to avenge her kinda-maybe boyfriend, the man who could have cured her behavioral disorder. This leads her into a world of dangerous criminals and manic creeps, with Detective Nevins pinning Lindy as the prime suspect in Justin’s murder case due to her constant snooping and interference.

Penned by first-time screenwriter Scott Wascha, Jolt is similar to stylized female-led actioners Atomic Blonde (2017) and the more recent Gunpowder Milkshake (2021), blending dark humor with bloody kick-ass action — the goriest bits are when Lindy experiences vivid visions of herself viciously correcting others. The premise here is pretty bonkers, but Wascha fails to capitalize on the lunacy of the situation, unlike Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s wacko Crank (2006-09) films, which are both absurdly entertaining. Instead, Jolt gives us a clichéd action movie narrative with predictable story beats and generic twists and turns, leaning into all the usual tropes.

Fighting the surge …

On the plus side, the script offers some insight into Lindy’s impulse control problem, which is presented as both a power and a handicap. As it turns out, Lindy isn’t your typical female, who’s taught from an early age to take criticism on the chin and overlook the injustices happening around her. Lindy is a woman fighting for her feelings and her voice to be heard, determined to punish the people responsible for taking away her chance at a calming romantic relationship. She’s given more layers beyond her fury, and scribe Wascha imbues the character with humor and heart. So, Lindy is not as thinly written as one would expect.

Helmed by Tanya Wexler, Buffaloed (2019), Jolt is elevated by its glossy and polished production and contains flashes of stylistic energy. Wexler’s zappy direction elevates the so-so script and gives the proceedings a uniquely female gaze. There’s also excellent work done by cinematographer Jules O’Loughlin, The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017), who transports us to a host of vibrant neon-lit locations, where Beckinsale’s rage-driven antihero breaks bones instead of hearts. Moreover, the film’s adrenaline-pumping soundtrack by Dominic Lewis, Fist Fight (2017), is a surefire highlight, the music in sync with the film’s fast pace, jewel-toned visuals, and dynamic punch. Regrettably, the action scenes are few and far between. In terms of fight choreography, don’t expect Chad Stahelski or David Leitch-type action; the fight scenes in Jolt are not as visceral or expertly composed. There is, however, a sleekly staged car chase around the midway mark; but we’ve seen this stuff before, and done better elsewhere.

Danger: High Voltage!

No stranger to the action genre, Kate Beckinsale — who played leather-clad badass vampire Selene in the Underworld series (2003-16) — slips back into combat mode comfortably despite not doing all her own stunts — it’s clear through the film’s biggest beatdown that Beckinsale’s double or stand-in is performing all the complex fight moves. Still, the 47-year-old English actress channels Lindy’s trauma and anger in fun and engaging ways. Beckinsale is electric and gives a wholly committed turn; she’s great to watch.

Elsewhere, Bobby Canavale, Ant-Man (2015), and Laverne Cox, Promising Young Woman (2020), are amusing as the good cop/bad cop duo investigating Justin’s murder, each seeing Lindy in a different light, while Jai Courtney, Suicide Squad (2016), charms as Lindy’s beau, who sparks her vengeful blood-soaked quest. In minor roles, Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones (2009), adds gravitas in his handful of scenes as Lindy’s pushy therapist Dr. Ivan Munchin, while veteran actress Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise (1991), shows up for a brief cameo as ‘Woman With No Name,’ her character hinting at a potential sequel.

Whether we get this follow-up is anyone’s guess, but standing at a short, sharp 90-odd minutes, Jolt will keep most viewers galvanized, even if it is somewhat formulaic. If anything, you gotta admire just how much Kate Beckinsale wants to pummel us into having as good a time as she is; it’s hard not to get swept up by her drive and enthusiasm.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Stu Cachia (S-Littner)

Jolt is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video