2021, R, 106 mins.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate / Miku Martineau as Ani / Woody Harrelson as Varrick / Tadanobu Asano as Renji / Michiel Huisman as Stephen / Jun Kunimura as Kjima / Miyavi as Jojima / Amelia Crouch as Teen Kate / Ava Caryofyllis as Child KateDirected by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan / Written by Umair Aleem
One of the curses of being a film critic and seeing as much of what comes out as possible is that I'm exposed to the same material being dragged out and recycled over and over...and over again.
Netflix's latest action thriller KATE feels likes its ripping off the streaming giant's own properties at times.
Here's a film
about a lethal, steely eyed, and ravenously driven assassin for hire with
a traumatized backstory that ends up on the run and also has to care for
an innocent young girl while fending off the constant barrage of male
thugs that attack them both and wish them dead.
If you - like me - saw Netflix's GUNPOWDER
MILKSHAKE from just several weeks ago and were left with
overwhelming sensations of copycat syndrome...well...you're not alone.
KATE's narrative has been slavishly - some could aptly say plagiaristically
- appropriated from the GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE playbook, and countless other
assassin thriller cheat sheets as well.
Aside from the wonderful Mary Elizabeth Winstead commendably
leading the charge and some viscerally potent action sequences, too much
of KATE is a paint-by-numbers affair.
I did like the
setting here, although it leads to some unintentionally bad side effects
(more on that in a bit). KATE
takes place in a neon-lit Toyko and features Winstead as the titular
anti-hero, a cold blooded and stone cold sniper that works with her
handler in Varrick (and terribly underutilized Woody Harrelson), who has
been her surrogate father figure since she was a girl (granted, this
paternal figure taught this girl multiple ways to kill people at an
unhealthily early age). While
in Osaka, Kate and Varrick decide to take a job to terminate a high
profile, yet mysterious client, but they later find out while on the job
that the real prey is the target's daughter, Ani (Miku Martineau), and in
pure movie assassin fashion (no kids, no deal), Kate refuses the
assignment at the last minute and bails for Tokyo.
fly by and while there she has a hook up with a stranger at a local bar
(Michael Huisman), but after a night of sextivities with the man she
becomes dizzy, ill, and passes out, waking up in a hospital and learning
that she's been poisoned with Acute Radiation Syndrome, which will turn
her insides into liquid goo in 24 hours and kill her in the process. Arming herself with multiple adrenaline shots, Kate
desperately flees from the hospital to seek out the man that's the most
likely suspect, Kijima (Jun Kunimura), a yakuza boss with powerful allies
and resources. In the process
of doing this, Kate ends up inadvertently teaming up with Ani herself, and
the more time she spends with her the more she realizes that Ani's own
flesh and blood want her dead, which puts Kate into maternal protective
mode. Let's not forget,
though, that she's a ticking time bomb that's about to go off in a day,
and with the threat of dying alarming soon on the horizon, Kate has to go
on the crisis/take charge offensive and fast.
sensitive aspect of Kate's DOA-inspired mission here is decent enough, and
the death sentence that awaits Kate gives the film a sense of forward
momentum and chilling suspense (however, it doesn't speak well towards the
protagonist's smarts at all, considering that she's a thoroughly trained
assassin and should not let her guard down and engage in any hanky panky
with a complete stranger). The
only thing that keeps Kate going throughout this hellish ordeal is
frequent self-administered adrenaline shots by the hour, which has
predictable effects on her already frazzled state of mind.
Nevertheless, the poison is destroying her from the inside out,
leading to some nasty repercussions, but she soldiers on and decimates her
way through legions of yakuza scum. Director
Cedric Nicholas-Troyan (a former Oscar nominated visual effects man for SNOW
WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN before directing its sequel in THE
HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR) makes the Tokyo settings come alive with
some commendably eye-popping imagery. KATE is an unendingly good looking movie.
conjures up some truly inspired action beats to demonstrate just how
dexterous (and, at times, maniacal) Kate is when it comes to taking out
the worst elements of the underworld.
There's a wondrously realized brawl sequence that features Kate
crashing a yakuza dinner (she kicks, punches, stabs, and shots first and
asks questions a very distant second).
BIRDS OF PREY stunt
coordinator Jonathan Eusebio previously worked on that film with Winstead
(remember her inspired turn as The Huntress?), and their solid work
beforehand has obviously and positively segued into KATE.
This film wholeheartedly delivers on the type of bone mashing and
brain spraying mayhem that most genre fans have come to expect, and points
need to allocated to Troyan and his team for making all of the bombastic
scenes of human misery and pain have a reasonably flow and coherence to
them. Compared to the recently released Netflix thriller SWEET
GIRL (which had action beats that were cut and choreographed so
spastically to the point of eye strain), KATE is like an aesthetic breath
of fresh air in the right direction.
And, yes, I have
to talk about Winstead for a minute as well.
As she demonstrated in the aforementioned DCEU entry, she's
completely credible here as a take no prisoners action hero, and as an
engine to deliver insta-death to her assailants Kate is a wickedly
intimidating force (even though she wears cute smiley face T-shirts and
has a penchant for high sugar drinks).
It's a very authoritative turn from Winstead and she acclimates
herself to the madness of KATE quite well, but I only wished, though, that
her character was afforded more layers of depth and nuance.
Both Kate and her young kidnapped protégée in Ani never come off
as interesting characters on the page, and the narrative journey that they
both go on - replete with lots of barriers both mental and physical being
thrown at them - feels pretty mechanical and artificial.
Ani is also simply not likeable in KATE, which is another issue.
Yes, Ani and Kate obligatorily bond over similar past traumas, but
Ani comes across as so annoying in the film that I simply didn't care if
she made it through the picture at all.
The final act of KATE only exacerbates everything, when certain
characters that figured in prominently in the beginning disappear and then
conveniently reappear, only to now radically change alliances and further
threaten Kate's well-being. It's all just too much.
Less would have been more in the climax.