Lindy (Kate Beckinsale) has some kind of vigilante disease. From an early age, when she witnesses wrongdoing, her body chemistry gets so indignant that she all but Hulks out on the perpetrators. Instead of turning big and green, her pupils constrict. The end result is the same: Violence and destruction, levied against the impolite rather than the supervillainous. It’s like if Larry David got exposed to gamma rays, but not funny. At least, not intentionally so. The only way to suppress the etiquette-based Dirty Harry lurking inside her is through impulse-controlling, full-body electric shocks, administered by a sort of electrode harness invented by her mad scientist shrink (Stanley Tucci, performing a thin warmth most evocative of his cookbook cover). Jolt’s ridiculous, stupid premise is ripe for over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek action antics surrounding Lindy’s shock-collared, hormone-based member of the Watchmen, but it doesn’t really do anything at all with its Cranky premise. Instead, it’s a semi-snarky generic-brand Atomic Blonde, replacing Charlize Theron’s tough-as-nails physical abilities and David Leitch’s stunt experience with empty promises of excess.
Director Tanya Wexler’s first foray into action isn’t really that interested in fights, chases, murders or the like. She seems more comfortable with the grating comedy saturating Scott Wascha’s first produced script. We get a one-two punch of this up front, as an interminable and smug voiceover introduction—walking us through the premise by narrating Lindy’s upbringing with a thoroughness most often found in animated movies that think children are particularly dim, or in fantasy-action franchise hopefuls explaining that their hero’s journey has long been prophesied—is followed by a botched first date with the suspiciously vague accountant Justin (Jai Courtney, endearing as a big beefy dweeb).
Eventually it all works out, restoring her faith in humanity and throwing her a much-needed bone. Aping Blonde again with its pink-and-blue lighting—ironically deployed here with intense heterosexuality on a nude Courtney’s muscled back and butt as Justin proves himself a generous lover—Jolt’s sex scene is its most effective. It’s sultry, female gazey and positions its actors evocatively throughout its quick montage. And then Justin goes the way of John Wick’s dog. Turns out he was an accountant for shady folks! Who could’ve guessed? Sorry, Lindy. And sorry to those watching the film, as the only female gaze you’ll get from Jolt after that is one of the endless pupil shots indicating that oooh, she’s mad now.
Her ensuing revenge against those that killed her nice guy isn’t served hot or cold, but half-baked. Sometimes Jolt wants to be capital-E Edgy, like when Lindy plays hot potato with the newborns in a hospital nursery; sometimes it slows to a deadly crawl, like when she hires the talents of some Best Buy hackers. The only true throughline is that its premise and central character barely exist. Lindy’s cortisol levels and lifetime of trying to cope with them have given her the unique abilities of…every single action lead of the last few decades. She can fight, she can shoot, she can drive and climb and take a hit. Since the shocks are about suppressing an impulse and not an ability—and they almost never, ever come up in the first place—you can basically just forget about the entire crux of the film and imagine you stumbled into any generic super-assassin beat-em-up. She’s not constantly grappling with knocking the teeth out of a slightly rude innocent or anything, nor is she ever seeking more intensive ways to control herself. We get a few “fantasy” sequences where she’ll give a good smack to a manspreader, but those quickly fade. She is just an action heroine with extra steps and an emptier result.
Add in a couple bumbling buddy cops (Laverne Cox and Bobby Cannavale, stumbling over each other’s comic decisions) and a twist that’d be easier to ignore if it was wreaking high-voltage havoc on your frontal lobe, and you have a depressing movie that’s flaccid attempts at uniqueness only serve to remind you of just how generic it is. That goes for its major theme, too. This movie has balls on the mind: Lindy kicks a lot of dudes in the nuts, momentarily graduating to electrocuting them with a car battery, and has a vocal appreciation for Justin’s. If Jolt’s facile interest in taking down the patriarchy was any more obvious, it’d be swinging from a truck’s trailer hitch. Its girl power is running on AAAs.
Half-assed, Black Widow-like spinning neck takedowns, cheap sets and Beckinsale’s disaffected, thrownaway deadpanning (almost certainly achieving exactly what she was directed to do) flicker while you’re watching it and then fade completely as soon as the credits roll. When Susan Sarandon shows up in the final minutes like a particularly uninterested Nick Fury, it’s all the more sad and laughable that this film thought it was going to be a franchise-starter. Jolt’s generic results are so far removed from its high-concept electrical premise that you have to wonder: Watt the hell happened?
Director: Tanya Wexler
Writers: Scott Wascha
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Bobby Cannavale, Laverne Cox, Stanley Tucci, Jai Courtney, David Bradley
Release Date: July 30, 2021
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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