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‘Kate’ Review: Netflix offering full of action, but not much else


Brent Leuthold

Whatzup Features Writer

Published September 8, 2021

Netflix’s newest action-packed offering Kate stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the titular role as a ruthless, Japan-based assassin working under handler and father figure Varrick (Woody Harrelson).

Ten months after a botched job in Osaka, Kate contemplates early retirement before Varrick chides (“Two trips to Walmart and you’ll be back’’) and convinces her to take one last assignment. High atop a Tokyo skyscraper, she lines up her shot but gets violently ill. A doctor gravely confirms acute radiation poisoning soon afterward.

With roughly 24 hours to figure out who tried to have her killed, Kate storms her way up the Yakuza pecking order while unwittingly recruiting an impressionable young girl named Ani (Miku Martineau) along the way.

Not a Lot New to Offer

While Kate isn’t as dispiritingly derivative as Gunpowder Milkshake, another rowdy Netflix dud released earlier this summer, it offers very little new to the saturated sub-genre of tough-as-nails, female-led actioners. Yes, it seems a handful of movies every summer (see also Jolt and The Protégé, both released within the past few weeks) are vying to be the next Jane Wick, even though few, if any, women are involved in the creative decisions behind these projects.

Along with writer Umair Aleem, director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan seemed to look to the work of fellow Frenchman Luc Besson a bit too closely. Kate borrows liberally from the “ticking time bomb” conceit of his Lucy along with the assassin-with-a-heart-of-gold feel (and even a specific Gary Oldman line) from Léon: The Professional.

Thankfully, Nicolas-Troyan’s background in visual effects for The Huntsman and The Pirates of the Caribbean franchises translates to some kinetic action scenes that make up Kate’s backbone. Easily the most impressive is a superb Kill Bill-esque brawl in the film’s first act, which includes brutal beats like Kate reloading her gun off of a baddie’s face and pure white shojis being painted with streaks of red.

A subsequent street shootout showcases more dynamic gunplay with some neat camera tricks that are just the right amount of showy for this sort of movie. By the time we get to the final showdown, the outcome seems inevitable, but the staging and editing still allow us to suspend our disbelief up to the last moment.

Running out of Gas

Though it’s well under two hours, Kate sadly peters out around the end of the second act. Much of that can be attributed to the remove at which the protagonist has held nearly every character in the film. It was around that time that I simply stopped caring about Kate, her motivation, and her goals.

Winstead is a talented actress, but she’s stuck with a one-note character whose coldness and single-mindedness become laborious after a while. She does have some quality bonding scenes with Martineau, who pushes things a bit too hard, but I can’t say that I felt fully convinced of their relationship and its consequences on the story. While it’s not totally uncommon for an all-out action movie like this, nearly every other character is essentially just fodder for Kate to eventually cut, shoot, or stab through.

Perhaps it’s an issue of timing more than anything, but after seeing Asians be featured so thoroughly and colorfully in Shang-Chi, it’s a bit depressing to watch Kate offer so little for its Japanese characters. While that Marvel outing had its narrative letdowns, it should be commended for filling its story with characters who had agency and development every step of the way.

If Asian-cast characters aren’t being served up one by one to the violent protagonist in Kate, they’re whispering platitudes about honor and family that ultimately have no bearing on the outcome of the narrative.

I’m not expecting an action movie to give every henchman a backstory, but after watching Asian representation being built up on-screen over the past few years, Kate feels regressive in its efforts to sideline its non-white characters.

More New Movies Coming This Weekend

Opening in theaters and also streaming on HBO Max is Malignant, a horror thriller starring Annabelle Wallis and Maddie Hasson about a woman plagued by waking dreams of grisly murders that she discovers are, in fact, terrifying realities.

Playing only in theaters is Show Me the Father, a documentary which features captivating stories interwoven with inspirational truths about the fatherhood of God.

Streaming on Apple TV+ is Come From Away, a live stage recording of the 2017 musical of the same name, which tells the true story of 7,000 passengers who were stranded after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in a small town in Newfoundland.

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