If you had to trace the origins of the modern action movie, one possible starting place is 2006’s Crank. The Jason Statham movie received mixed reviews and was only a mild financial success, but it captured an idea that would live on in the 21st century. Crank took the concept of the ‘90s hit Speed — the inability to slow down — and personalized it. Speed’s idea was to imagine the destruction that would fall upon a city if one anodyne part of its infrastructure, a bus, couldn’t stop. Crank asked what would happen if that was a person.
While Crank’s success earned it a forgettable try-hard sequel, its real legacy is John Wick. The Wick series took Crank’s non-stop action and gave it mythology and style. While Crank’s action is driven by a medical necessity, the action in John Wick comes because that’s just how life goes in its world. Wick characters are both ordinary and extraordinary.
The struggle and triumph of the Everyman is at the center of Wick movies, which is perhaps why they’ve provided a style other films are fond of borrowing. One of them is director Tanya Wexler’s Jolt, which might not reach the heights of the Keanu Reeves trilogy, but is enjoyable in its own right.
The Everywoman in Jolt is Lindy (Kate Beckinsale), who’s been different for a very long time. As an opening monolog (narrated by Susan Sarandon) tells the viewer, Lindy has anger issues. If a boy would steal a piece of cake at a birthday party, she would shove his face in it. She chases kids down alleyways with bats, kicks an orderly in the testicles, and is too much of a menace for the army. Nothing works for her, until she tries electroshock therapy.
Lindy hasn’t been much use to anyone, but she’s trying to change that. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Ivan Munchin (Stanley Tucci), has diagnosed her with intermittent explosive disorder, and they’re trying to improve the voltage strategy by giving her a series of electrodes attached to her body and a fob she can use to give herself little boosts. Whenever her anger starts rising, she can give herself the titular jolt and calm down.
It works some of the time. While she’s able to restrain herself from knocking out a guy for being rude to a valet, she has a harder time when she overhears a waitress mocking her and Justin, her accountant date (Jai Courtney). She goes into the woman’s bathroom and knocks her silly, then becomes convinced that her condition is hopeless.
But Dr. Munchkin convinces her to try again. Lindy has a good time with Justin, and the two sleep together. This sequence is one of the more beautiful in the movie, doused in the blues, purples, and pinks collectively known as “bisexual lighting.” The viewer sees Lindy finally trying to be vulnerable.
But as you might suspect, the good times don’t last. Justin turns up dead, much to the befuddlement of Detective Vicars (Bobby Canavale) and Nevin (Laverne Cox). These cops are clueless and antagonistic towards Lindy, who they correctly see as a very violent person. But Jolt works best when it simply throws logic out the window, allowing enemies to become fast friends.
Jolt offers hints of an underground world where rules don’t matter. Lindy goes to a Best Buy stand-in and rejects the help of a manager in favor of the biggest geek the store has. Inexplicably, the store has a superhacker just kind of hanging out in the backroom. Outside of its need to move the plot forward this scene makes no sense, but it is delightful to watch.
There are car chases, face punches, and a mysterious ringleader named Gareth Fizel (David Bradley, best known as the creepy Walder Frey in Game of Thrones), who hangs naked from a ceiling to sleep. The movie is perhaps a little too eager to build out a Wick-like world, and its twists tend to pile on each other, dulling each surprise.
But Beckinsale gives the role her all, and the cast around her is strong enough to bring out the minor roles. When Jolt stands on its own, it’s a lot of fun.
Jolt is streaming on Amazon Prime.