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‘Jolt’ Review: Kate Beckinsale Has Major Anger Issues in a Formulaic Actioner

'Hysteria' director Tanya Wexler dials it up a notch with a different sort of electrical stimulation.

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Simon Varsano

Early in “Jolt,” a relentlessly busy and cacophonously noisy action film that often comes across as a Kmart version of “Black Widow,” Lindy, the violently inclined protagonist played by genre vet Kate Beckinsale, explains why she’s singularly well-equipped to be a vengeful vigilante. “Some people cry,” she tells a doctor trying, and failing, to curb her impulses. “Some people drink. Some people write shit poetry. I hurt people. Might as well put it to good use.”

Unfortunately, Lindy has a difficult time controlling her unique talents. As a result of a neurological malady diagnosed as intermittent explosive disorder, she is gifted (or, if you prefer, cursed) with near-superhuman strength and lethal martial artistry whenever anyone — a sleazy crime lord, a torturing interrogator, a snooty waitress, anyone — makes her angry.

Dr. Munchin (Stanley Tucci), her all-purpose psychiatrist, physician and life coach, rigs up a way for her to cool her volcanic temper tantrums by jolting herself with an experimental electrode device. If this shock therapy works, he tells her, she can achieve something like normalcy, and even attempt social interactions like blind dating. Trouble is, shortly after Lindy finally meets Mr. Right, an affable accountant named Justin (Jai Courtney) who also qualifies as Mr. Big, police report his brutal murder. This, as you might expect, makes Lindy very, very angry.

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Working from an arrantly derivative screenplay by Scott Wascha, director Tanya Wexler sporadically brightens the proceedings with darkly comical touches, including flashes of fantasy that illustrate Lindy’s burning desire to cause grievous bodily harm. (It’s a gotcha technique similar to that often employed by Claude Lelouch, albeit to far less ferocious effect.) But the movie is even funnier if you recall that Wexler directed “Hysteria,” a 2012 comedy that dealt with, among other things, the invention of the vibrator. If you could see “Jolt” in a theater — instead of viewing it on Amazon Prime, where it premieres July 23 — you’d easily spot the people around you who have connected the dots between it and Wascha’s 2012 opus. They would be the ones laughing loudest each time Lindy pushes the button to give herself, ahem, a charge.

Once again displaying the kinetic grace, authoritative physicality and heavy-duty footwear that have made her a cult favorite for fans of the “Underworld” franchise, Beckinsale is fun to watch in both the real and fantasy fight sequences that take up much of the briskly paced “Jolt.” But wait, there’s more: She neatly balances aggressive snark and emotional vulnerability in a performance that makes her character, if not entirely believable, then persuasive enough to encourage a rooting interest as Lindy makes life miserable for anyone she suspects played a role in Justin’s murder.

As the two disapproving homicide cops who never manage to deter Lindy from her extralegal investigation, Bobby Cannavale is as sweetly teddy-bearish here as he was in the recent “Superintelligence,” while Laverne Cox supplies industrial-grade surliness as his by-the-book partner. Not incidentally, Cox and Beckinsale are perfectly matched during a seriocomic standoff in a hospital nursery filled with more babies than Chow Yun-Fat protected in John Woo’s “Hard Boiled.”

Susan Sarandon provides expository voice-over in the opening minutes of “Jolt,” but doesn’t show up on-screen until the final moments, when she fleetingly appears as a mysterious figure identified in the end credits as Woman With No Name. (Really.) Her only reason for being here — well, aside from picking up an easy paycheck — is to open the door for a string of sequels. Beckinsale, it should be noted, doesn’t appear overly enthused by this prospect.

‘Jolt’ Review: Kate Beckinsale Has Major Anger Issues in a Formulaic Actioner

Reviewed online, Houston, July 21, 2021. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 91 MIN.

  • Production: An Amazon Prime release of a Millennium Media presentation of a Busted Shark production, in association with Electric Films, Campbell Grobman Films. Producers: Sherryl Clark, David Bernardi, Les Weldon, Rob Van Norden, Yariv Lerner. Executive producers: Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Jeffrey Greenstein, Jonathan Yunger, Gareth West, Christa Campbell, Lati Grobman, Boaz Davidson, Heidi Jo Markel, Tanner Mobley.
  • Crew: Director: Tanya Wexler. Screenplay: Scott Wascha. Camera: Jules O'Louglin. Editors: Chris Barwell, Carsten Kupanek, Michael Duthie. Music: Dominic Lewis.
  • With: Kate Beckinsale, Jai Courtney, Stanley Tucci, Bobby Cannavale, Laverne Cox, David Bradley, Ori Pfeffer, Susan Sarandon.
  • Music By: Dominic Lewis