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Kate
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Same old same old."
2 stars

Slicker than goose shit, Netflix’s #1 trending new film "Kate" is stylishly brutal and will probably be praised in some quarters accordingly, but it leaves us wanting more.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is laconically terrific as Kate, an assassin who gets poisoned and spends the remainder of the movie, and the rest of her shortened life, searching for the yakuza higher-up who gave the kill order. Kate kills her way through Japan, coughing and injecting herself with stimulants to keep going. Even just this far into the review, film titles may have popped into your head: John Wick and the Crank films and DOA (either version) and many others.

In and of itself, Kate is smoothly pieced together, but it simply echoes too many of its ancestors to earn a place among them. It’s probably best for fans of Winstead and of gnarly action — the fight choreography is quick and vicious, and the digital effects augment the carnage (Kate takes out one poor sap by shoving a knife through his lower jaw up through the bridge of his nose). Segment by segment, the movie keeps us going, like those stimulants, but ultimately it winds down, and our interest with it. Kate is provided with a damsel in distress, teenage Ani (Miku Martineau), whose uncle is a yakuza bigwig; her father had earlier been killed in front of her by sniper Kate, though Ani doesn’t know this.

Shooting and stabbing her way up the ladder of the Japanese underworld, Kate needs to keep the whiny Ani alive, and every time we see Ani, we’re reminded of how false this relationship feels, how roughly it seems forced into place. Thank God Kate’s maternal instincts aren’t awakened by Ani — Kate feels bad for getting Ani’s dad’s blood all over the kid’s face, but that’s about it. When Kate takes scissors to her hair in a restroom, she comes out looking a bit like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. The script, sadly, doesn’t give Winstead much to call her own. Kate is professional and pained and vengeful. She doesn’t have time to be anything else. For the sake of a cool visual late in the film — when Kate should be almost dead — she comes out, loaded for bear, smoking a cigarette and backed by numerous yakuza. Sorry, is this the same woman we’ve seen coughing in every scene and, pre-poison, jogging and parkouring up alley walls? There’s no reason for her to put more toxins in her body and mess up her respiration other than Rule of Cool.

Which, I suppose, will be enough for some. It’s probably an homage to Chow Yun-Fat in The Killer or Hard Boiled, or any number of films where an assassin blithely sucks up some nicotine before rolling up their sleeves and aerating dozens of foes. But Kate has too many moments like that, where we figure something’s there because someone (maybe director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, or writer Umair Aleem, or both) thought it’d look awesome. It does, kind of, but in all the old ways. Filmed in Tokyo, Bangkok, and L.A., Kate is full of decadent neon and Japanese hip-hop and densely packed nightclubs. There’s also an evil gay assassin (played by the musician Miyavi, the obsessed sergeant in Unbroken) who fights well enough but, jeez, why the yellow/pink peril?

It’s not as if the movie had anything to say about sexuality. Kate takes a rando to bed (contemptuously tossing a wad of cash on the nightstand), and if not for this guy, she wouldn’t get poisoned. Nothing he says to her strikes us as witty or persuasive enough to score with her, so why does she bother? Then again, we never ask why James Bond or other male assassins pause to savor the touch of a woman; maybe she just needs to work off some nervous energy. God knows she doesn’t have anyone else in her life, other than Woody Harrelson in a handful of scenes as Kate’s handler Varrick. (Is his first name Charley?)

I wasn’t aware Harrelson had entered the stage of his career when he pops in for extended cameos in empty-calorie actioners; he probably does it better than Bruce Willis does at this point, but that’s not saying much. As with Winstead, his professionalism is appreciated, but one wants to be watching either of them in anything else.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=34854&reviewer=416
originally posted: 09/18/21 07:25:41
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  10-Sep-2021 (R)

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