Review: KATE, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, An Action Star in the Making
Action-thrillers with a revenge twist don’t get more rote or routine than screenwriter Umair Aleem (Extraction) and director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan’s (The Huntsman: Winter's War) first and most likely last collaboration, Kate.
Even taking into account Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s fierce, ferocious performance as the singularly named, revenge-thirsty title character, they sadly don’t get any more forgettable or dispensable. It’s both a pity and a shame, especially given Winstead’s obvious dedication to portraying the title character and the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours she spent training for the physically demanding role as the proverbial ruthless assassin who grows a conscience moments after discovering she’s on the way (i.e., dying within 24 hours).
Aleem and Nicolas-Troyan’s film opens in painfully predictable fashion as Kate is all set up and ready to assassinate a Yakuza leader in Osaka, perched in a sniper’s nest high above a caravan of Yakuza-owned cars as they roll into a curiously empty warehouse area. Kate hesitates when she spots the Yakuza leader’s teen daughter emerging from the car, but her offsite controller orders her to proceed with both all deliberate speed and extreme prejudice. Despite the vocal opposition of her longtime handler, mentor, and paternal figure, Varrick (Woody Harrelson), the hit rattles the underwritten Kate just enough for her to consider early retirement. She does, though not in the way she imagines.
Set primarily in a neon-lit Japan where comic book-inspired Yakuza essentially run Tokyo if not Japan, outright and gaijin like Kate and Varrick seemingly blend into the populace without anyone noticing or caring, Kate (the movie) borrows its central premise (a character discovering they have 24 hours to live and 24 hours to find their killer before shuffling off their respective mortal coil) from noir classic D.O.A. and gives it a slickly superficial, ultra-violent gloss. Kate can kill disposable henchmen in suits and ties with the expected efficiency, though she tends to prefer the up-close-and-personal approach (stabbings to all manner of body parts) along with John Wick-inspired head shots, most, if not all, up-rendered via semi-convincing CGI blood and gore.
Moving from one minor boss to another minor boss, each time moving up the ladder of felonious criminality videogame-style, before she gets to the Boss of Bosses (i.e., the Big Boss) and the equally predictable, non-thrilling mix of point-and-shoot gunplay and hand-to-hand combat. Winstead makes for a convincing comic book-flavored assassin without a last name or much of a past, though Aleem and Nicolas-Troyan attempt to throw in a plot complication in the physical form of Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau), the head man’s punkish, rebellious niece who’s badly in need of the kind of maternal life lessons only a female assassin reaching the end of her short, brutal life can impart.
Even as Kate (the movie) careens from one action scene to another, the title character looking progressively worse for wear due to the effects of the poison ravaging her body, it moves further and further away from anything resembling recognizable reality. That’s apparently according to the plan devised by Aleem and Nicolas-Troyan.
They can’t, however, figure out a single tone, opting for visual cool, plot illogic, and frantic, frenetic martial arts fight scenes centered on a capable Winstead and her stunt double. On occasion, Nicolas-Troyan pauses long enough to let viewers actually see Winstead and her months of training in action, though too often, they fall back into over-editing action scenes right to the edge of incoherence.
Still, Winstead, as talented a performer as anyone in her age range (and beyond), does her next-level best to sell the title character’s faux-redemptive journey. It’s to Winstead’s considerable credit that she almost makes viewers care for the title character’s demise, adding depth and nuance to an otherwise stock role. Unfortunately, the film built around Winstead and her talents rarely rises above time-wasting background fodder.
Kate will be available to stream on Netflix on Friday, September 10.
- Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
- Umair Aleem
- Mary Elizabeth Winstead
- Woody Harrelson
- Michiel Huisman