Kate Review: Likeable style doesn’t overcome lackluster substance
At face value, Netflix’s Kate might appear to be simply another female assassin flick in an era of the action genre that’s becoming overcrowded with them. However, it at least has a strong enough lead performance and stylistic action to slightly set it apart from the rest.
The film follows Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a talented assassin who takes out targets assigned to her by her trusted mentor Varrick (Woody Harrelson). After an assassination on a high-profile Yakuza member causes Kate to contemplate retiring, she attempts to do one last job, but finds that she’s been poisoned for an unknown reason. With her time winding down and only a few medicinal injectors to keep her alive, Kate goes on a revenge tear through Osaka to uncover the reason why she’s been poisoned and put a bullet in whoever gave the order.
Up front, the story is by far the weakest element of Kate as it’s truly a mix and match different narrative beats from other action movies. Everything with Varrick is incredibly underwhelming since it’s a typical mentor betrayal that can be seen from miles away and features a by the number’s performance from Harrelson. The relationship between Kate and a young girl named Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau) has incredibly familiar tension that eventually boils to a head as Ani doesn’t know that Kate killed her father. Although there’s this unknown truth between them, Ani and Kate find this generic commonality between them that just isn’t all that special. Even the ideas of Kate being poisoned and racing against the clock feel ripped from Jason Statham action movies like Crank and Transporter 2 and the tone the film takes just doesn’t work.
When it’s not letting the neon tint of Osaka or the J-Pop music drive the tone and action, Kate can be a real dour downer. It’s titular assassin simply has this robotic brooding persona that never breaks and doesn’t allow the attempts at more emotional beats to land. Winstead assuredly tries her best to at least make Kate’s targeted mindset fun and she succeeds in certain moments. There’s a certain likeability that Winstead brings as Kate that’s akin to her performance in Birds of Prey as Huntress with the balance she can bring in delivering badass one-liners and being a foreboding force. However, Winstead isn’t really allowed to break out of Kate’s rigid persona, so outside of action sequences and a select few moments Kate’s pretty much a drag. The story simply doesn’t give Kate enough depth to make her angry and determined persona more interesting or engaging.
Even worse is that this story is a jumbled mess that throws way too much information at viewers that isn’t easily digestible. There are too many characters and relationships the film tries to establish in Kate’s path to revenge and the direction of the story generally comes off confusing because of it. It’s tough to stay invested in it and ultimately, the impact of certain character moments becomes lost – especially within the big betrayal.
Kate’s greatest strengths are in its stylistic action as it really feels like the film is loosening its grip on itself. The settings for fights are a lot of fun and create more unique moments for Kate to take down Yakuza with pretty much anything she can get her hands on. The overall energy of the film and Winstead heightens with each insane kill and the style of movement and fighting is incredibly engaging. The fight sequences really use every inch of its setting’s potential, and it makes Kate’s persona as a top assassin come through in very fun, destructive ways. There’s even a fun moment of Kate backing up Ani’s finger pistols that’s clearly a great nod to The Losers. It’s also nice how these sequences show how human Kate is with the injuries she sustains persisting throughout the film. Not to mention, the added neon tint and use of J-Pop give Kate a unique identity that’s missing in all other aspects.
Kate’s stylistic action and parts of Winstead solid lead performance will be enough to float the bill for most action fans, but it’s recycled story and tough to love tone won’t really work for anyone else.