Kate has the makings of a shoot-em-up assassin revenge film, and it certainly has that formulaic sense to it, what it winds up being is just another carbon copy of the films that came before it (3 alone have been released this year that follow the same pattern). Imagine a student wanting to copy another’s homework or project. To make it look different than the original just change one thing so it’s not an exact copy and that’s what Katedoes. It looks like John Wick, sounds like Nobody but is more in line with Gunpowder Milkshake, lacking substance while promoting its sleek style as the selling point for watching this film.
What sets Kate apart from its predecessors is the one aspect others haven’t explored – killing the main character Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). After a mission of taking out a high-ranking yakuza boss, Kate is poisoned and only has 24 hours to live. Kate uses the remaining hours in her life to track down who poisoned her all while pseudo-adopting the niece of a top crime boss Ani (Miku Martineau).
There’s an interaction of dialogue in the second act of the film where Kate and Ani are talking about Kate’s mortality in which Kate mentions that no one knows her and that she’ll die alone. I’m paraphrasing here but that’s the main underlying issue with Kate – the screenplay written by Umair Aleem. As the main character, the one seeking revenge for being poisoned, rooting for Kate is tedious. She doesn’t make it easy for Ani to like her whatsoever so why should we? Ani is the typical impressionable side kick who has useful moments but suffers from the same tropes of being in the way. Most of her dialogue is annoying to sit through every time Ani opens her mouth and that’s not the blame of Miku, she’s ok in the role, doing the best with what she’s given.
However, in the moments of calm between the high-octane action of Kate showing off her assassin abilities, Ani and Kate share sweet moments together. In that same interaction, Ani describes her mother comparing her too Kate (while Kate passes out from the pain of the poison running through her veins), adding a bit of sweetener to all the sour going on around them.
The action scenes shot from cinematographer are a high point in the film, staying steadily in place to let the choreography play out the way it was intended. Winstead in the assassin role is believable – looking absolutely badass when she takes no prisoners in the 1000 plus ways to kill a man. She certainly can handle her own in this type of role (look at what she did with minimal time in Birds of Prey). It’s the script that lacks any substance, mishandling Winstead the same way Gunpowder Milkshake mishandled Karen Gillan, even giving off a feeling of being derivative. I swear, all these assassin revenge films all are made in the same factory. Some are everything they live up to be and some over-reach their potential, falling short of the expectation.
Beyond the duo of Kate and Ani, the clichéd mentor V (Woody Harrelson) is shoehorned into a story that doesn’t make time for the character. Although Miku is a good sidekick, Harrelson’s talent is underutilized, giving the actor a total of 10 minutes in the film to nail his relationship with Kate. As mysterious and ulterior motivated as the mentor character usually is, it’s just another plot point that isn’t fully addressed. There isn’t enough exposition to drive home how close V and Kate are. Yes, he took her under her wing at a young age and trained her to be a super assassin, but I just don’t buy it. This year’s The Protégé nailed the mentor/ mentee relationship between Samuel L. Jackson and Maggie Q.
For director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan who also specializes in visual effects, the film captures the Japanese style and ascetic not of the flashy nightlife but of the gritty underbelly where crime thrives. Nicolas-Troyan doesn’t rely too heavily on the special effects though one scene looks to be straight out of a Midnight Club videogame – weaving through traffic with the reflexes of a superhero.
Kate can be applauded for going in a different direction with its titular heroine but lacks any of the heart that the best in the genre bring. With Winstead kicking so much ass, the overall story is sub-par ultimately ending up yet another forgettable as soon as its over straight to Netflix film. There is potential and a solid foundation of relationship between Ani and Kate but for much of the film, its mindless turn your brain off type of entertainment. I don’t even know if the “villain” was supposed to be V or one of the head’s of the yakuza, it already left my short term memory.
Written By: Umair Aleem
Directed By: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Music By: Nathan Barr
Cinematography: Lyle Vincent
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Woody Harrelson, Miku Martineau
Where to Watch: Netflix
Release Date: September 10, 2021
Running Time: 1 Hour 46 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 41%
My Score: 1 out of 5