PLOT: Struggling with a condition that requires giving herself an electric shock to stop from indulging in violent impulses, a woman much embrace her rage to find out who is responsible for the murder of her boyfriend.
REVIEW: After 90 or so minutes of constant shock at how by surprise JOLT had taken me by, I finished this new actioner starring Kate Beckinsale completely enthralled by its supreme level of confidence. From the earliest minutes, director Tanya Wexler succeeds in infusing her latest with a sense of strangeness, manic energy and no small amount of charm, leaving every ounce of fat on the floor in a no-f**ks-given style that knows full well the kind of B-movie fun its having.
From the jump, you’ll either be pulled into Jolt’s aggressive high-concept or be out before it gets going. Via narration by the Woman With No Name (Susan Sarandon), we’re introduced to young Lindy, who has trouble getting close to people given a rare condition that forces her to go into a violent rage at the slightest annoyance. If any of us get cut in line, at most we give them a “Back of the line, Bozo!” If it happens to Lindy, she would go into an uncontrollable fit and beat the man senseless with a trashcan cover. Fast forward 20 years and adult Lindy (Kate Beckinsale) has lived a tough life, has a chip on her shoulder that naturally keeps people away, and, most notably, wears a harness that allows her to give herself a needed electric shot to stop her from going ballistic when the mood hits her. This little trinket is thanks to her doctor living in what appears to be a drug den (Stanley Tucci), who suggests she takes this opportunity to meet someone special, like the strapping Justin (Jai Courtney).
While she’s able to control herself physically, Lindy can’t help but inch close to complete meltdowns – like at a rude server at a fancy restaurant – and via mental playthroughs, we see what she *would* do if she were unleashed. But between these visualizations of extreme violence, most of it is lowkey for the early moments as more of a romantic comedy takes the focus. Justin doesn’t care about her condition or her harness. Wexler does a solid job establishing their relationship, focusing on Beckinsale’s work as Lindy to emphasize how she lets her guard down. This is a woman who desperately wants to get better, and despite her past, decides to let him in all too quickly. But this is an action thriller, and after something happens to Justin, Lindy can’t control herself and no amount of shock can stop her as she rapidly sets out to find the culprits.
As the going gets fast, Wexler still tends to favor the humor of Scott Wascha’s script. Beckinsale is more than able to throw herself into the action, but what stands out most is the humor between the stacked cast that includes her, Tucci, Bobby Cannavale as a cop who has a thing for Lindy, and Laverne Cox as his partner, who wants more than anything to bring Lindy down. Everyone in the cast has the quick comedic chops needed to match the sheer propulsiveness of the story and how manically it races along – which makes it all more fun to watch than the action itself.
In this chaos where the movie does tend to crumble a bit, structurally. A conventional story feels a bit more of a letdown as characterization feels but on the back burner in favor of action that throws Lindy into the action rather than makes it a story about her hesitance to it. Even though the action is constructed in a rough-around-the-edges way that doesn’t forget Lindy is acting out of impulsivity as in not some highly-skilled assassin out for revenge, the story as a whole plays like a garden variety (if admittedly fun) action thriller that seems to forget its unique premise in favor of sleekness.
At the center of it all is Beckinsale, who while stranger to action films, finds herself in the one that takes the most advantage of her range as an actress. She’s whip-smart, witty, has a spark of madness, and as the role demands, is more than willing to throw herself into the action with zero abandon and unhinged rage. But it’s when her guard is down and when she’s feeling lost and vulnerable, unable to control her actions, where she really shines. Even during the chaotic sequences, there’s always a level of pain and regret behind her eyes. Beckinsale never loses that grip on the side of Lindy that can’t help doing the things she does. It’s a delicate balance of action star and character study, and Beckinsale is nothing short of electrifying.
In the movie’s final act or so, the focus on her condition shifts to a more effective perspective, finding Lindy at an especially vulnerable place that breaks down her tough exterior. I wouldn’t go as far as to classify Jolt as an in-depth character piece brimming with emotional resonance, but on the strength of Beckinsale’s work it’s not hard to have empathy for Lindy, and at the very least, keeps you onboard for her mission.
But for all its shortcomings in terms of storytelling execution and making full use of its premise on a deeper level, there were few minutes from start to finish that I didn’t have a blast with. The cast is dialed up and fully investing in the bizarreness of it all, and Beckinsale is a walking bolt of lighting, commandingly charming and fierce. I can’t imagine you’ll get more out of Jolt other than a fun time, but with an ending that hints there’s – for some reason – more to come, perhaps more time expanding the character could make it the start of something greater.