It’s been nearly two decades since Kate Beckinsale starred in Underworld, joining the ranks of Catwomen Eartha Kitt and Michelle Pfeiffer, Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix, and Angelina Jolie in the Tomb Raider movies to prove latex catsuits truly are the ass-kicking outfit of choice. It’s reassuring how confidently Beckinsale slips back into that mold with Amazon Prime Video’s action movie Jolt. A B-movie designed by people who knew exactly what kind of enjoyable trash they were making, Jolt is unabashedly silly, sloppily written, and overly reliant on the likability of Beckinsale and fellow cast members Stanley Tucci and Jai Courtney. But it’s also a breezily entertaining reminder of how delightful it is to watch Beckinsale get pissed off.
Directed by Tanya Wexler (whose previous films Hysteria, about the invention of the vibrator, and Buffaloed, about a debt-plagued hustler, also centered on female protagonists) and penned by first-time screenwriter Scott Wascha, Jolt initially seems like a gender-switched version of Crank. That 2006 cult film and its 2009 sequel Crank: High Voltage both star Jason Statham as a hitman who, for various convoluted reasons, needs to keep his adrenaline high and his heart pumping, via fistfights, street races, public sex, and eventually by strapping himself to a car battery. Jolt isn’t as wonderfully ludicrous as those films, and it wastes a little too much time setting up a staid “All women want to be loved” narrative throughline. But when the film lets action-mode Beckinsale do what she does best, which is charm guys with her face, then punch their faces, Jolt clicks together.
Beckinsale stars as Lindy, a woman who struggles against an all-encompassing, invigorating anger. (Yes, this film is ripe for ableist critique.) In an overly long, choppily edited opening, a narrator whose identity is only revealed in the film’s final frustrating minutes asks, “What makes a person extraordinary? Everyone wants to be normal, but no one wants to be ordinary. And what is normal?” As a child, Lindy’s “gift,” as the narrator describes it, manifested in her beating up bullies, led to her parents neglecting her, and landed her in a psychiatric facility. Her “intermittent explosive disorder” can only be controlled by severe electroshock therapy, and her years spent as a “human lab rat” made her deeply distrust other people.
As an adult, Lindy wears a specialized vest that she triggers to send serious voltage through her body to stop her from acting on her anger, but she also uses her super-strength and propensity for violence to make ends meet as a bouncer. With no friends and no close people in her life, Lindy’s therapist Dr. Munchin (Tucci) encourages her to give dating a try. Beckinsale snarks “A penis is not going to fix me, Dr. Freud,” like the professional actress that she is, but Dr. Munchin is insistent: Maybe the right guy will calm Lindy down. And surprisingly, Nice Guy™ accountant Justin (Courtney) seems to do the trick. He laughs at Lindy’s jokes, he sees her eyeing up a rude waitress and says, “If you were planning to stab her with that knife, that would be totally cool with me,” and he doesn’t balk at seeing her body covered with the electrodes that deliver her self-administered, rage-reducing shocks. Instead, he performs oral sex on Lindy and brings her coffee and pastries the morning after they hook up. Is Justin actually Mr. Right?
But then something happens to Justin, and the police detectives assigned to the case — flirtatious Detective Vicars (Bobby Cannavale) and perturbed Detective Nevin (Laverne Cox) — suspect Lindy’s involvement, given her history and her rap sheet. In response, Lindy launches her own investigation into Justin’s case, diving into a criminal underworld she can navigate efficiently due to her special skills. “I hurt people. I might as well put it to good use,” Lindy vows, and then Jolt devotes itself to letting Beckinsale dust off and slip back on Selene’s stride, kick, and glower.
Jolt feels like a spiritual descendant of Joe Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces a surprising amount of the time, and a chase scene in a hospital nursery is so delightfully dumb, it feels like a secret outtake from I Think You Should Leave. Practically every villain is a guy recoiling in fear (and protecting his crotch) whenever Lindy comes calling, and each dick-panic scenario is goofier than the last: Lindy rips out a man’s groin piercing after interrupting an underground fight club, then mocks him. She’s coolly in control while torturing another guy with a pair of jumper cables connected to his genitals. Through all this havoc, Wexler keeps the focus on Beckinsale, maintaining Lindy’s vengeful desire as the film’s guide. Lindy might not need a man, but she sure enjoys incapacitating them, and Beckinsale handles the genital-focused violence with aplomb and cheeky self-awareness, which she also brings to various fantastical sequences where Lindy imagines going berserk and killing people who annoy her.
None of this is good in the traditional sense. While Beckinsale works at the film’s center, various other actors feel like they’re in different movies altogether. Tucci is as calm and wise as he was in Easy A, but Cannavale and Cox mug it up, and then David Bradley, Game of Thrones’ Walder Frey himself, shows up for a few minutes to scowl, mutter, and hang upside down in some kind of bizarre life-elongation apparatus that looks like a purchase from a Minority Report prop sale.
But Beckinsale is so clued-in that Jolt becomes trashily satisfying, and her dynamism improves even Wascha’s clunkiest dialogue. (“You’re an odd specimen. I’m not sure what phylum you belong in.”) Before the film’s last few minutes circle back to that unnecessary starting narration and strain to make a grand statement about the relationship between women and violence, Jolt hums along on its own frenetic frequency. How long must we wait until Jolt: More Joltage, the obvious title for the sequel Wexler and Wascha baldly set up in their film’s concluding moments? As long as Beckinsale returns for that sequel, any wait will be worth it.
Jolt premieres on Amazon Prime Video on July 23.