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Review: Kate Beckinsale kicks ‘Jolt’ into elevated grade of female action

A woman sits on a sofa, handcuffed to a heater, in the movie “Jolt.”
Kate Beckinsale in the movie “Jolt.”
(Simon Varsano / Amazon Studios)

Ever wanted to clock a manspreader? Punch an entitled misogynist? Wallop a rude server? It’s not polite to admit, especially for women, but to deny that violent thoughts can be a part of the human condition is to deny what it means to be human, and even, perhaps, what it means to be a woman. That’s why Tanya Wexler’s clever, nasty little action flick “Jolt” is so much fun: It allows the viewer to indulge in the pleasure of bloody fantasies while exploring the ways in which rage, and its culturally imposed repression, can be an integral part of the female experience.

Our lethal heroine, the crass and charming Lindy (Kate Beckinsale), is a “unique specimen,” as we come to find out in an expository opening sequence. She has an “impulse control problem” driven by her anger. Combine that with a traumatic childhood, years of isolation, lab rat-style testing and military training, and she has evolved into a superwoman fighting machine with terrible social skills. The only treatment she’s found to keep her violent impulses tamed, allowing her to live as a functioning member of society, is a vest of electrodes through which she administers herself electric shocks, zapping her fantasies into submission.

Her situation makes relationships even more challenging, so when a blind date with mild-mannered accountant Justin (Jai Courtney) turns steamy, it rocks Lindy’s world. So much so that when Justin turns up dead, she wants revenge, and she’s taking it all the way to the top. You can’t blame her, after a night like the one she had. A good man is hard to come by.

Written by Scott Wascha, the script is simultaneously crude, rude and whip-smart. Wexler‘s direction is a rapid-fire attack of highly stylized skirmishes and aestheticized action. The lighting is particularly pleasing: Jewel-toned gels abound, a pink neon glow permeates Lindy’s apartment, and an underground fight club is lit by only by flashlight, creating an intimidating donnybrook into which Lindy marches and asks to speak to the manager.

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At the center of this whirlwind is Beckinsale, who has already proved her action chops as vampire warrior Selene in the “Underworld” movies. Here, she gets to kick butt but also be the chatty, snarky, well-meaning yet wild Lindy, who just wants to be loved despite all her rage. She banters with and bedevils the cops (Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox) looking into Justin’s murder, and though there are a few sequences where you can tell it’s a stunt double doing the dirty work, it’s hard to dock points when Beckinsale is so winning and the film is so fast and funny.

“Jolt” isn’t prestige cinema, but it is far smarter than its exploitation trappings. Wexler and Beckinsale truly make a meal of the gender flip that is sending a woman to wreak bloody havoc in revenge for the murder of a sweet, nerdy hunk. Plus, in a refreshing turn of events, Lindy doesn’t need to be empowered through wielding guns, a cheap device that filmmakers too often lean on for female action stars. She rarely touches firearms, deriving her empowerment from her own anger, sorrow and pain, channeling it into her hands and fists (and yes, sometimes MacGyvered explosives). This shouldn’t be radical but unfortunately, it is.

Lindy may be emotionally (and physically) gun-shy, but in learning to fight in the name of love (or at least one fun night), she learns that even though most people are terrible, there are a few nice guys worth getting mad about. Now that’s an inspiring tale.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

'Jolt'

Rated: R, for strong violence, sexual content and language throughout

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: On Amazon Prime Video


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