Photo: ‘Jolt’/Amazon Studios
Very few films can claim to have either reinvented or reinvigorated their very own genre. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ (1999) unleashed a torrid stream of look-alike low-budget found-footage horror, ‘Jaws’ (1975) perfected the summer blockbuster to a science, and ‘John Wick’ (2014) reimagined the brutal revenge thriller for an entirely new generation. While that film (as well as its sequels) have maintained a refreshing authenticity and striking individuality throughout, the innumerable rip-offs and wannabes that they inspired have steadily run short of both.
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In the wake of Keanu Reeves’ rebirth as the stoic dog-loving assassin who can “kill you with only a pencil” there have been both pleasant surprises (like ‘Atomic Blonde’ (2017), ‘Nobody’ (2021), and ‘Pig’ (2021)) and bitter disappointments (like ‘Peppermint’ (2018), ‘Hotel Artemis’ (2019), and ‘Polar’ (2019)). Unfortunately, breakthrough director of ‘Buffaloed’ (2019) Tanya Wexler’s neon-soaked vengeful thriller ‘Jolt’ (2021) lands itself squarely in the latter of those two categorizations.
Star of ‘The Aviator’ (2004) and the ‘Underworld’ series (2003-2016) Kate Beckinsale portrays the acid-tongued Lindy, a woman born with an intermittent explosive disorder which plummets her into an uncontrollable blind rage whenever she is faced with even the slightest of annoyances. As a form of medication, Lindy wears an experimental electric shock vest that she uses to suppress her brutal impulses before she unleashes them on whoever is unfortunate enough to stand in her path. The device was designed by her trepidatious psychiatrist Dr. Munchin, portrayed by ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ (2006) star Stanley Tucci, who advises her to try dating as a means to channel her heightened emotions into something more productive.
Faced with an impending loneliness Lindy is inspired to give a previously failed date a second chance, linking up with Jai Courtney’s Justin. Their date goes better than she could have imagined, helping her conquer her rage and setting her on the path towards recovery. Her newfound tranquility is immediately shattered by the news that Justin has been murdered and the cops assigned to investigate his death, Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox, have no tangible leads. Overcome with a rage stronger than she’d ever felt before, Lindy sets out into the vast criminal underworld to find whoever was responsible for dashing her dreams of a normal life.
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An Action Thriller Absent Action or Thrills
As Beckinsale’s Lindy points out in one of the film’s more interesting conversations, “Some people cry, some people drink, some people write shitty poetry – I hurt people. I might as well put it to good use.” As far as snappy taglines for a popcorn revenge flick go, that’s pretty promising. But the problem is that there is never really much credence lent to this claim in an interesting or meaningful way. The movie’s most fun action set-pieces come in the form of split-second sped-up montages of what Lindy might do to people if not for her vest. Instead of ending in an elaborately well-choreographed fight, Lindy resorts to using explosives, diminishing the impact of the lackadaisical villain’s half-hearted comeuppance.
When the film does allow inklings of Chad Stahelski’s electric action to sneak through its banal facade, Beckinsale is clearly replaced by a distracting stunt double, a textile blonde wig obscuring her entire face as she listlessly kickboxes faceless assailants. A seldom few action movies can survive on plot alone, and seeing as ‘Jolt’ is incredibly lacking in that department as well, there is not much left that can be hailed as a saving grace.
Paper-Thin Characters Meandering Through an Even Thinner Plot
While ‘John Wick’ is undoubtedly defined by its high-flying and hard-hitting action, one of the key reasons it has been able to prove itself as a landmark amongst the last decade of cinema is the rejuvenated star at its center and everyman charisma of the Wick character. Reeves was a bygone star a decade out from his last critical and commercial hit by the time the first ‘John Wick’ came out. Against all odds, the film kicked off the now-famous “Keanu-ssaince”, revitalizing his career and redefining what it meant to be an action star.
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Kate Beckinsale, in need of a miraculous cultural renaissance herself, is ultimately serviceable as the film’s volatile heroine, unleashing some nominally amusing quips and enjoyably morose body-acting. With that said, she never truly assigns any real mannerisms or characteristics to Lindy beyond her devilish temper and a lousy attitude. The rest of the cast is similarly muted in their performances, never even approaching nuance outside of their one-line character summations i.e. “run-down cop” or “scoundrel billionaire”. Surprise appearances from ‘Game of Thrones’ (2011-2019) actor David Bradley and ‘Thelma and Louise’ (1991) star Susan Sarandon are profusely welcome until their presence is roundly squandered in little more than a minute or so of screen time. All in all, ‘Jolt’ proves far less capable a star vehicle than ‘John Wick’, and eager fans (if they’re out there) will continue their indefinite wait for the “Beckin-ssaince” to begin.
An Unambitious Twist Followed By Set-Up For a Sequel That May Never Come
It takes quite a lot of work to pull off even the simplest of twists, but ‘Jolt’ goes for broke with absolutely zero set-up. The film bafflingly attempts to mirror the breathtaking reveal of Carol Reed’s all-time classic ‘The Third Man’ (1949), but it cannot be reiterated loudly enough that that is where the similarities end between the two. While Reed’s film put in the work to explore the nature of its central characters before expertly flipping them on their head, Wexler’s convoluted final 15 minutes feel apathetically slapped on after the realization that not much of substance had taken place in the first 75.
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The unsatisfying wrap-up is made all the more perfunctory thanks to an abrupt sequel set-up that promises to explore the origins of Lindy’s rage. Sarandon, portraying a character legitimately credited as “Woman With No Name” in the credits, reveals she had been responsible for Lindy’s trauma and offers her the opportunity to harness her rage towards those who truly deserve it. Lindy protests but is promptly electro-shocked into submission, offering a window into a future installment that will likely never see the light of day. While nothing is certain in Hollywood, the negative hype and lackluster reviews for ‘Jolt’ will presumably spell out its doom as a prospective franchise.
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Stanley Tucci, Jai Courtney, Bobby Cannavale, Laverne Cox, David Bradley, Susan Sarandon
Cinematographer: Jules O’Loughlin | Editor: Chris Barwell, Carsten Kupanek, Michael J. Duthie | Score: Dominic Lewis
Director: Tanya Wexler | Writer: Scott Wascha | Producers: David Bernardi, Sherryl Clark, Robert Van Norden, Les Weldon, Yariv Lerner
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Andrew Valianti is a writer and an aspiring producer-director, and all-around film lover. While writing both features and reviews for the Hollywood Insider, Andrew has focused on the intersection of cinema and politics as they relate to empowering diverse stories and viewpoints. Through both study and practice, Andrew has seen first hand the many ways in which film and media can have a positive and meaningful impact on everyday lives. His personal views align with the Hollywood Insider, as he views journalism as a means to empower and mobilize positive change rather than spread gossip or negativity. He believes that art ignites action and has sought to pursue stories that further this goal.