CAST: Kate Beckinsale, Bobby Cannavale, Laverne Cox, Stanley Tucci, Jai Courtney, Susan Sarandon, David Bradley, Ori Pfeiffer
RUNNING TIME: 91 mins
BASICALLY…: Lindy (Beckinsale), who has an electrical vest to prevent her homicidal urges, goes on a warpath when someone close to her is killed…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Giving Kate Beckinsale the keys to her own action movie franchise is not at all a bad idea. The actress certainly has the chops to carry herself in a bunch of action sequences – they wouldn’t have brought her back for all those Underworld sequels if they didn’t think she had something to offer – but she’s never really had the chance to really go for broke, John Wick-style, until Jolt which is probably the closest she’s yet come to headlining that kind of over-the-top material.
However, while Beckinsale is certainly as game as she’ll ever be (perhaps a bit too much so), the overall film doesn’t quite have the spark that’s truly needed to catapult her into proper action heroine iconography.
The actress plays a woman named Lindy, who was born with a very rare condition known as intermittent explosive disorder, where an unusually high level of cortisol in her system makes her susceptible to frequent angry outbursts that often lead to violent outcomes. To combat her condition, she is fitted with a special vest that sends shocks through her body whenever she gets that urge to lash out, which she hopes will give her the opportunity to live a normal life. Things look like they’re starting to go that way when she begins dating a mild-mannered accountant named Justin (Jai Courtney), but shortly after they begin their courtship Justin is found dead, having apparently been killed by his sole client, who happens to be a powerful arms dealer. Desperate for answers, Lindy defies the orders of both the local cops – represented here by Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox as a pair of detectives – and her therapist (Stanley Tucci) by conducting her own investigation into Justin’s murder, frequently using her angry outbursts as violent means of getting the information she needs.
The problem with Jolt isn’t necessarily the set-up of the plot, because under the right circumstances it has the potential to really connect with action-starved audiences, but more so that the overall execution doesn’t allow things to be fully realised. Director Tanya Wexler is clearly aiming for this very hyperactive and kinetic hybrid of action and comedy, often attempting to sprinkle a strong sense of humour into several of her action sequences as well as an endless supply of quips to make Marvel blush, but crucially the script – written by Scott Washca, in his screenwriting debut – doesn’t appear to be able to match the ambition of his logline with a plot that feels all too safe for this kind of movie. It’s the kind of film where the main character is caught up in some major conspiracy, with the cops closely following their every move because they think that she might be the culprit, all leading up to multiple showdowns with a bunch of colourful side-characters; it’s that kind of overly-familiar action movie plot, which for a set-up that is certainly imaginative and invites a number of possibilities to the table, feels like a conservative decision that ultimately cripples its chances at legitimate greatness.
Sad as it is to say, the other main reason it doesn’t work is the main character herself. There’s nothing really all that wrong with Kate Beckinsale’s performance, because she does really throw herself completely into this kind of role, but the character of Lindy is unfortunately that kind of obnoxious action movie lead that is written to be far too smarmy and way too aware of the fact that she’s the lead in an action-comedy. She doesn’t break the fourth wall or anything, but almost every other piece of dialogue that comes out of her mouth feels like it was prepared specifically to be a one-liner that nobody would utter in the situation unless they knew there was a camera pointed at them; she is like this throughout the entire movie, and it quickly becomes annoying to a point where you simply stop caring about her. It’s hard to root for a main character like this who, despite their intentions throughout, constantly acts so smug that it doesn’t even seem like she’s actually human half the time, even though it is somewhat satisfying to watch her beat up some very rude employees at apparently the worst restaurant in the country (seriously, in this day and age, what kind of establishment refuses to remove some allergens at the request of a polite-enough customer?).
You can tell that director Wexler is trying to make up for the lack of a compelling plot and unsavoury lead character by injecting some notable energy into her action, but it always feels as though the filmmaker is held back by what looks to be a rather limited budget for this kind of concept. In the end, it comes across not as a standalone action film but an extended pilot for a TV show about this character – the last two minutes of the film are pure sequel-bait – which could potentially improve or extend upon things that are lacking here, but just shows even more that, despite the promising set-up, Jolt seriously fizzles out as its own thing.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Jolt fails to utilise its promising premise with an all-too safe action movie plot surrounding a lead character who is often far too obnoxious to entirely root for, though the efforts of both star Kate Beckinsale and director Tanya Wexler to inject a bit of energy into its veins is admirable, if not entirely successful.