Director: Tanya Wexler
Writers: Scott Wascha
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Bobby Cannavale, Jai Courtney, Laverne Cox, David Bradley, Ori Pfeffer, Susan Sarandon, and Stanley Tucci
Synopsis: A bouncer with a slightly murderous anger-management problem that she controls with the help of an electrode-lined vest she uses to shock herself back to normalcy whenever she gets homicidal. After the first guy she’s ever fallen for is murdered, she goes on a revenge-fueled rampage to find the killer while the cops pursue her as their chief suspect.
A couple of weeks ago, Gunpowder Milkshake was released on Netflix and was marketed as a female-centric version of John Wick. Unfortunately, the film didn’t really work, as it felt busy setting up its sequel and related spin-offs that’ll likely never happen instead of establishing its characters and delivering a good story along the way. This week, Amazon Prime Video releases Jolt, which feels like a female-centric version of Neveldine/Taylor’s Crank, also suffers from the same problem. However, it’s marginally better than Gunpowder, mainly due to Kate Beckinsale stealing the show in one of the best roles.
She plays Lindy, a young woman suffering from Intermittent Explosive Disorder (as explained through pretty shoddy voiceover narration from Susan Sarandon), to which she can snap in a fit of violence at the sight of a mere annoyance since her body is filled with an unusual amount of cortisol. With the aid of Dr. Ivan Munchin (Stanley Tucci), a treatment comprised of self-administered shocks gave her the possibility to live her life as a normal person. She goes on her first date with Justin (Jai Courtney) and madly falls in love with him, thinking she is cured of her disorder. However, when Justin gets murdered by multi-billionaire Gareth Fizel (David Bradley), she decides to avenge the killer while two detectives (Bobby Cannavale & Laverne Cox) think Lindy is the suspect. That’s part of the story, but most of it serves as a backdoor pilot to a sequel (and, who knows, potential cinematic universe?) as Lindy is unaware she’s the subject of a stress-test/experiment by Dr. Munchin and a Woman With No Name (Sarandon) to examine whether or not she can successfully embrace her rage and become powerful.
I’ve honestly never seen Kate Beckinsale having so much fun during a film. This could very well be her best role yet, completely chewing up the screen in more ways than one. She not only has the funniest lines of the entire film but also has terrific chemistry with everyone else. Heck, its supporting cast also has a tremendous amount of fun, mainly due to the film’s quasi-ironic tone. When Detective Nevin (Cox) stops in the middle of a gunpoint intervention to make a rather sarcastic joke to Lindy, the overall tense atmosphere completely shifts to a silly tone, adopting the same hybrid mix of gritty action and ridiculously ironic comedy Crank (and its sequel) did. Tucci, Cannavale, and Cox are also excellent here, bringing some much-needed levity to the film with a fun, good cop/bad cop routine. Cannavale’s Detective Vicarss plays a more laidback, friendly figure to Lindy, whilst Cox’s Nevin follows protocol to the letter and is more “by the book” than Vicars. These actors make the film somewhat entertaining, as everything else feels half-baked at best.
Whenever Millennium Media co-produces an action film, you can almost predict that it’ll contain poor stuntwork and bad CGI. Jolt is no exception. Most of its action sequences are passable, except an energetic car chase and a playful foot chase that incorporates elements from classic burlesque cinema. Likewise, virtually all of the film’s one-on-one fight sequences are drab at best, bogged down by rapid editing and jump-cuts to hide the fact that Beckinsale isn’t doing her own stunts. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s the film’s job to make it convincing, which unfortunately isn’t the case. It doesn’t help that once these sequences start to incorporate inferior CGI explosions in the mix, it’s even worse than it initially was. Some action sequences do use a creative amount of lighting, such as an underground boxing match in which spectators light the scene with flashlights, but it’s a real shame that you can’t see most of it without trying to pause it frame by frame. Rapid editing is a sign of the intensified continuity of digital cinema, as described by David Bo. Still, it has also tarnished the way filmmakers shoot and edit action for the worse. (Side note: the backlot set acting as the film’s main city feels highly reminiscent of Sesame Street with how it’s staged and unconvincing it looks).
It also doesn’t help that the film’s main antagonists are quite underdeveloped. David Bradley is a wonderful actor and is terribly underused here, essentially acting like a classic James Bond villain who doesn’t do much aside from ordering his robotic group of henchmen around. Bradley is great, always, as he tries to make his character as interesting as it can be, yet its thinly-written arc fails its audience. A twist happens late during the film, which reveals the true villain behind Lindy’s revenge-fueled quest and, as predictable as it is, falls quite flat on its face and becomes quite silly. Not silly in the way of a Crank homage, but unintentional hilarity ensues as the movie decides to jump the shark and end as quickly as it can, hoping audiences will forget what they’ve seen.
But not so fast! As the film’s opening scene introduced Lindy and started world-building almost immediately to set up endless sequels, Jolt‘s ending bookends the dated trend of setting up the next chapter of a franchise that will likely never happen. Sure, if it would’ve adopted Crank’s race against time aesthetic or made the stakes feel more urgent, maybe the film’s sequel-bait would’ve been more anticipated than a viewer asking the question “why?” at the end of the film. It’s a shame for Beckinsale, who seems to have such a great time with the material, but Jolt didn’t need to fizzle out so quickly as it did. The potential was there, but the execution wasn’t. Oh well. Here’s hoping the potential sequel is better.