Jolt feels like it wasn’t ready to be a feature film. If it had been a short film, it might have been better. As it is, it remains pretty to look at but hollow to its core.
Tanya Wexler’s Jolt lands somewhere on the cinematic spectrum between Navot Papushado’s Gunpowder Milkshake and Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s Kate. The movie has moments of creativity and inspiration, and when those moments happen, they highlight how rickety everything else is. A sci-fi action movie, Jolt feels as if it could be based on a graphic novel.
The script by Scott Wascha attempts to give us girl-power and ass-kicking without understanding very much about either. Jolt centers around Lindy (Kate Beckinsale), a woman who suffers from Intermittent Explosive Disorder. “When people do bad things, Lindy can not control herself.” She doesn’t have an anger problem so much as a rage problem.
All the credit to Beckinsale in that she plays Lindy as if her teeth are on constant edge type of volatility for the first half of the movie. If there is a reason to sit through Jolt, it is Beckinsale’s performance. She never overplays Lindy. Instead, she finds the perfect balance of unbridled fury and wounded soul.
Lindy is soon forced to wear a harness of electrodes hooked up to a fob switch that shocks her whenever she feels she is on the verge of a violent episode. She wars it under her clothes, making her appear normal to the rest of the world. Instead, Jolt frames Lindy as if she is a walking gun, always half-cocked, always on the verge of going off.
Wascha’s script, however, never makes up its mind. It’s possible Jolt is meant to be an allegory for how women must live in a patriarchal world, every day filled with so many sexist slights that eventually it becomes like water torture. Then again, it could be meant to be about living with a chronic illness or an invisible disability. I say “could” because neither Wascha nor Wexler ever seem to commit to a theme, much less any allegory.
Wexler does a splendid job of visually putting us in Lindy’s head for a while. She is constantly walking an inner tightrope, striving not to violently lash out at people who are mean, rude, coarse, or even emotionally abusive. This is all splendidly framed by Jules O’Loughlin’s camera and the trio of editors Chris Barwell, Carsten Kupanek, and Michael J. Duthie. But as Jolt goes on, they allow us into her head, less and less.
It’s always disheartening to see a movie start out doing something compelling only to drop the ball simply because it would interfere with the story. They’d rather weave an ineffectual tale than give us a challenging emotional experience. It’s a pity because the story of Lindy finding love in a shy accountant, Justin (Jai Courtney), only to have him ripped away and force her into diving into a world she has tried to hide from has a lot of potential.
Beckinsale sells Lindy becoming the anti-hero almost too well. We follow her as she goes through the underworld, looking for answers about who killed her beloved Justin.
Wexler tries to inject some creative levity but it’s never enough. One instance involves a chase scene between Lindy and Detective Nevins (Laverne Cox) which ends with both ladies in a nursery. Nevin draws her gun but Lindy tosses a newborn baby at her causing her to drop the gun to catch the baby. It’s an inventive scene and shows how much fun Jolt could really have if it would just break loose and be as gonzo as it wants to be.
Beckinsale is magnificent. She wears Lindy’s heart on her sleeve. It’s hard to see her sitting in the corner of her therapist’s office in the dark, with the lamp knocked over and an exposed wire, so she can shock herself if she gets too sad and not have your heartbreak for her. Or feel happy for her when she thinks she has finally found someone who cares for her.
It’s not as if Beckinsale is the only talent in the cast. Stanley Tucci plays her therapist, Dr. Munchin, who pulls a gun whenever she comes storming into his office. The detectives trying to solve Justin’s murder and stop Lindy from becoming a vigilante are played by none other than Bobby Cannavale and the aforementioned Cox. Cannavale is the tender-hearted weary cop, and Cox is the hard-nosed street-wise partner.
None of them put in a lousy performance, but Wexler is never able to tie it all together. Though Jolt may be awash in neon lights and rain-soaked ambiance, it never feels cohesive. Wascha’s script has moments of insight, such as when Cannavale tells Lindy that he doesn’t see a psychopath but rather a woman so afraid of hurting people that she’d rather hurt herself. Moments like these make me wish that Jolt was just a little more daring, a little more extra, a little more something.
The film feels the whole time as if it’s trying to play it safe while also acting as if its very idea of an angry woman hero is something new. Jolt is shackled by a cowardice one would expect from a big-budget blockbuster and lacks the gutsy jagged edge of a low-budget indy. O’Loughlin’s imagery is glossy but never eye-catching-or anything more than just neat.
Jolt feels stretched thin even under its scant eighty-five minutes. It has the characters, but it doesn’t have them saying or doing anything that compels us to follow them.
Images courtesy of Amazon Studios
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