Tanya Wexler’s action-comedy “Jolt” flatlines early. Really early, kicking off with a shockingly dull four-minute piece of voiceover detailing decades of our heroine’s misbegotten life so far. It’s cold, clinical, and packed with plenty of dry details when all we really need to know about Lindy (Kate Beckinsale) is that she suffers from “intermittent explosive disorder.” Presumably, it’s the same condition that torments The Hulk: it means she gets pissed off easily, her always-ready-to-boil rage then triggering something like super-strength. It’s an iffy start for a film about explosive anger and the woman from whom it flows. For a film built on the wild concept that bonafide action bad-ass Kate Beckinsale has to wear an electrode-laden vest meant to shock her into submission before she maims everyone around her, there’s only one response: How dare this film be so lethargic.
Tucked inside the voiceover (by Susan Sarandon, whose very appearance, even via voice, indicates she’s here for a reason beyond pages of bad exposition) are a few important tidbits: Lindy’s condition was exacerbated by bad parents, stints in mental hospitals and the Army did nothing to dispel her condition, and she’s recently undergone a “shocking” treatment in hopes of curbing her impulses. That’s where the electrode vest comes in, which Lindy controls by way of a handheld buzzer that resembles a particularly chic garage door opener. When Lindy feels her emotional temperature rise, she gives it a little push, which leads to a little buzz that hopefully zaps her back into relatively normal shape.
Wexler and Beckinsale do find moments of absurd amusement when Lindy — an outsized character, to be sure — comes up against everyday annoyances: The man-spreader on the train, the jerk screaming at an innocent valet, the crying babies. It all bothers Lindy, often to seismic effect. Still, the vest works, and she’s trying to be a good girl. Enter: mild-mannered accountant Justin (Jai Courtney, saddled with unfortunate eyewear).
Lindy doesn’t like to date, but Justin charms her with unexpected ease. He’s just nice, and even Lindy can recognize the value of that (even if it means the waitress on their first date steps all over him, leading Lindy to, quite literally, step all over her). Two dates in, Lindy — who has spent most of her life in a state of rage — is a goner, head over heels, a new woman. That’s why it’s so very sad when Justin turns up dead.
As you might expect, Lindy sets out for revenge, but first-time screenwriter Scott Wascha doesn’t lean into Beckinsale’s action chops. There’s the good (like Stanley Tucci as Lindy’s doctor) and the bad (like the convoluted path to who killed Justin and why), and the just plain weird (Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox as a pair of bickering detectives, wholly out of place but all but begging for their own spinoff). And while the good doctor, and the film itself, make a few canny observations about the nature of love and lust in the middle of this wacky milieu, Wascha’s script is never as self-reflexive or as clever as it should be. (Wexler, best known for her historical dramedy “Hysteria,” knows her way around pointed jabs about womanhood, but even that is buried beneath a hinky script.)
At 90 minutes, “Jolt” should fly right by, but that endless voiceover opener proves to be a harbinger of worse choices to come. There are the flashbacks to things that just happened. There are action scenes that boil down to Beckinsale running through hallways and trying locked doors, then running some more. There is an unholy number of establishing shots that take place on a soundstage or in a European city, no matter how many cheaply made “Subway” signs the production team put up to try convince us this is taking place in New York City. There’s a limp mythology that adds nothing to the film itself. There’s even a twist, because somehow someone decided a ballistic Kate Beckinsale is not enough on which to build a film (and, hey, maybe a franchise? sure? wink wink?).
Beckinsale long ago proved her action bonafides, care of the stunt-heavy “Underworld” franchise. She’s no newbie to the now-expanding world of female-led action films; more than that, she’s good within its genre confines. She’s got the winking humor down pat, she seems to relish the physical demands, and she’s still able to find humanity in wild characters. All of this means “Jolt” should work, or certainly have a bit more pop than what lands on the screen, but there’s no spark here, no zip, no zeal; just dead batteries.
“Jolt” will start streaming on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, July 23.