I am, if I am totally honest, not even sure where to begin. Kate, the upcoming action film from Netflix, has a killer lead actress, a killer premise, looks gorgeous and falls entirely flat at every turn. If it were not for some stylistic flourishes –which are problematic in their own right– I don’t know if I’d have anything nice to say about it.
The story sounds great: a year after a hit gone bad, an assassin named Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is poisoned while attempting to execute her last hit. There’s no antidote, no cure, so she decides to use her remaining 24 hours on this earth to seek out those who want her dead and make sure they join her. Along the way, she makes friends with Ani (Miku Martineau), the young niece of the man she’s trying to find and kill, and they end up bonding as kate marches toward death and Ani marches toward having a life.
It sounds awesome, but the execution is entirely boring outside of some of the action scenes. There’s no chemistry between Winstead and Martineau. Every scene drags on whether it’s a wounded Winstead mustering the strength to carry on or just long pregnant pauses between bad guys discussing bad guy plans or gratuitous out-of-nowhere slow motion in the third act.
Winstead is, at least, fine in this. The characters and plot are paper-thin, so while her characterization is likewise, it’s hard to blame it on her entirely. She seems to hold her own in the action scenes –but more on that in a moment– but there’s nothing that sets Kate apart from any other action heroine here, and when it comes to lone-killer-on-a-quest-for-revenge, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before.
Her handler, Varrick, is played by a swaggering Woody Harrelson, and he seems to be having a good time doing it, but it also feels like he’s teleported in from a different movie. Tadanobu Asano is on hand as one of the main yakuza bosses as well, and while he’s not bad, he also doesn’t really have a lot to do.
This is where it all comes back down to the script, which is a mishmash of so many influences and references that the film never feels like anything other than fan fiction for an anime series that I haven’t heard of. Case in point: this film is set in Tokyo, but there’s no reason for that to be the case. There’s no reason it couldn’t be Moscow and the Bratva, New York and the Mafia, or any other city and organized crime combination. This film is set in Japan because the people who made the film think Japan looks cool, but then the question becomes, why cast Mary Elizabeth Winstead at all? Why not cast a Japanese actress to tell a Japanese story? Again, because Japan is only the location for fetishistic reasons. Even the character of Ani, who –as far as I can tell, is a teen– is wearing thigh high socks, a mini skirt, two anime-style buns in her hair.
The one saving grace of this film is that a few of the action scenes are legitimately good, including one in particular in which Winstead fights her way through a group of yakuza underlings in a spartan private dining room. Even these scenes aren’t without their frustrations, though, and chief among them is that it’s hard to tell if Winstead is actually performing all this action herself. The production notes make a big deal out of the fact that she “performed 95% of the action herself”, but in many scenes, the camera cuts so fast or is placed just so that you can’t see her face, and the result is that even if she is performing these fights, you can’t tell.
The other standout action sequence is a high-speed car chase near the film’s start, but it is so obviously CGI that it takes the audience right out of the film. It cuts back and forth to exterior shots that look like they’ve come from a video game to interior shots of Winstead driving that have no energy to them despite the car supposedly careening in and out of traffic.
Kate has everything it needs to be a kinetic and stylish action thriller with a solid emotional core, but it misfires on almost every front. The characters are thinly drawn, the plot is predictable and has little in the way of depth, and ultimately it ends up committing the cardinal sin that a movie can commit: it’s boring.
Kate will premiere on Netflix on September 10th, 2021.
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