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Kate (2021, 106 mins)
Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Written by Umair Aleem
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Woody Harrelson, Miyavi, Miku Martineau and Michiel Huisman
Available on Netflix September 10, 2021
If we’d known collectively as a society that the success and appeal of the John Wick film series would have ushered in a slew of copycat assassin films, is it possible we would have said “no thanks” to the premise altogether? It’s starting to feel that way after watching Netflix’s latest offering in the genre of ultraviolent revenge flicks, Kate.
Despite the presence of the ever-watchable and captivating Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the eponymous Kate, this woman-led take on the cold-hearted assassin turned relentless vigilante is both visually stunning and terribly boring.
Raised in the world of contract killing from a young age by her handler, Varrick, played by Woody Harrelson, Kate is the picture of heartless, steely eyed determination. This icy resolve is tested, however, when during a hit in Osaka, she falters for a moment seeing her target, a Yakuza boss, with his daughter by his side. Ten months later, still reeling from the guilt, Kate is hopeful that her next job will be her last. This plan goes awry when, after a bungled kill, she discovers she’s been poisoned with deadly radiation and has only 24 hours left to live. But she’s determined to make the most of it, stacking bodies and bullets all over Tokyo as she tries to figure out who wants her dead and finish what she started.
Along the way she picks up Ani, played by newcomer Miku Martineau, the daughter of the man she killed in Osaka, and becomes entangled in something much bigger and messier than she anticipated. For even a passing fan of revenge films like this one, the rest is easy to predict. At least in this respect, you certainly can’t fault Kate for sticking to a well-worn formula. In many ways, it often feels like a sequel to a better film you haven’t seen yet.
It’s a shame that both Umair Aleem’s script and Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) direction ultimately feel rote because both Winstead and Martineau’s performances are fun to watch. Their playful, natural chemistry keeps the film from dragging on and lends a necessary levity and wit to the movie’s 106 minutes.
Plot aside, there’s also something unnerving about the concept of a white woman assassin violently taking down a literal army of nameless Asian men, with the city and culture of Tokyo acting as little more than a stylish backdrop. Japanese people become background actors and then victims all to facilitate Kate’s killing spree. Despite the often striking visuals and hazy, neon-spiked streets of the city, the use of Tokyo ultimately feels fetishized.
Still, fans of films like John Wick, Atomic Blonde and The Equalizer, and there are many of us, will be tempted by Kate’s adherence to the revenge fantasy formula, which delivers just enough violence and panache to qualify for a late-night Netflix viewing.
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)