REVIEW: "JOLT" ON AMAZON
"Jolt," the new Kate Beckinsale action vehicle that's streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is probably the best of our recent glut of mid-budget, cartoonishly over-the-top beat-'em-ups. In the wake of "John Wick," the hard-hitting Asian martial arts films on which it's riffing, and the excesses of the "Fast & Furious" franchise, we've seen the more modestly-budgeted end of the US action movie market explode with these kinds of silly-violent escapades, making up for what they lack in budgets and fight choreography with self-aware zaniness, movie star charisma, and always, always vivid neon lighting schemes.
Sometimes, the result is "Gunpowder Milkshake," a reprehensible, sneering, gruesomely unpleasant, and ugly showcase for tired tropes and hacky jokes, wasting 10 or more great actors on nonsensical inanity instead of giving them one honest or genuine moment to play. But sometimes, you get "Jolt," a fast-paced, light-hearted, and good-natured live-action Looney Tune with some well-shot action and fun performances.
The main reference point here is probably "Crank," which featured a dashing and charismatic Jason Statham and a ludicrous plot mainly serving as a clothesline for frenetic, and slapstick-adjacent action set pieces, all set within a heightened alternate reality where everyone's body can take two times the punishment before shutting down. Kate Beckinsale stars as Lindy, a seemingly normal woman with a severe (medically diagnosed) rage problem. She's prone to fits of anger that cause her to become unexpectedly and uncontrollably violent, and the only way to reign in these impulses is through the use of a vest that gives her a powerful electric shock, designed by her "therapist" and advisor, Dr. Munchin (Stanley Tucci). Though Lindy has naturally isolated herself from society, due to her condition, she nonetheless allows herself to form a bond with a kind accountant named Justin (Jai Courtney). When he's murdered, she naturally sets out on a mission of revenge.
Though the movie is largely ridiculous, Beckinsale's giving a more grounded and emotional performance than, say, Statham as Chev Chelios in "Crank," or really any of the lead characters in these kinds of relentless, mayhem-focused actioners. Frank Grillo was a charming central presence in "Boss Level," sure, and handled the snarky VO well, but we never really had to invest in him as a real person with hopes and dreams for the future. He was just a guy stuck in a time loop trying to not die. "Jolt" lives or dies based on whether or not we care about Lindy completing her mission, and getting some kind of justice for her and Justin, and it only works because Beckinsale invests the scenario with some kind of reality, even though it's literally about a woman snapping guys' necks with her thighs in between zapping herself with electric charges.
There are also a few pretty well-handled fights and action sequences, including a car chase where Lindy has to evade two mismatched police officers. (Laverne Cox and Bobby Cannavale appear to be auditioning for a buddy cop spinoff in all of their scenes, and honestly, I can see it. They have real chemistry here.) Still, anyone looking for a pure action film in the "Wick" or "The Raid" mode will feel let down. This is as much a crime comedy as it is about punches and kicks when all is said and done.
"Jolt" ends with a direct set-up for a sequel, which is pretty par for the course in 2021, but still feels a bit extraneous. I'm not sure Lindy and her world necessarily need to be franchised out. It feels like we've done what needed to be done with the Jolt-verse. But still, as a relentlessly-paced 90-minute one-off, you could do a lot worse. And many streaming services have over the past few months, believe me. Compared to "Infinite," this is "Infinity War."
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video
Running time: 91 minutes
Genre: Action thriller