A routine story with high entertainment factor and colourful carnage
If ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ taught us anything, it’s that special effects and dazzling visuals will never be enough to save even the most classic fairytales, which is why you’d think that Cedric Nicolas-Troyan would’ve learnt his lesson by now.
That being said, it is surprising that the filmmaker’s latest endeavour didn’t wind up being another expensive flop considering how much it also hinges on aesthetic value. Shamelessly inspired by 1949’s D.O.A. and Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’, ‘Kate’ is a female assassin flick that doesn’t struggle with an identity so much as it embraces that its DNA is fabricated from those more successful relatives, and that’s actually a big part of the reason why it works more often than it should.
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The story here is fairly routine, as we find ourselves in the company of a professional assassin, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who’s decided to cut ties with the violent underworld that’s kept her a prisoner for so long – but not before being delegated one final mission by her father figure and mentor, Varrick (Woody Harrelson).
Following a steamy one-night-stand with Stephen (Michael Huisman), Kate discovers that she’s ingested a slow-release poison that has left her with only 24 hours to live and she must find those responsible for her toxic demise – you know, just to throw a spanner in the works. While on the hunt for the slick but savage Yakuza mob, Kate crosses paths with Ani (Miku Martineau) who joins her wild killing spree across Tokyo, however it soon becomes clear that there’s more to their burgeoning partnership than meets the eye. As the two slice-and-dice their way to the big boss, Kate is confronted with dark revelations about her past that could change her fate, but not before she’s forced to make some (quite literal) cut-throat decisions first.
Not since Glen Morgan’s gleefully gruesome remake of Black Christmas has Winstead been soaked in this much fake blood and neon lighting (and that’s certainly no complaint). Without a doubt, the actress is the movie’s greatest asset and that should come as no surprise since she already had plenty of practice kicking-ass in DC’s high-octane, candy-coated saga ‘Birds of Prey’.
Yet, there’s only so much that countless scenes of colourful carnage can offer when a movie’s plot is so familiar that we can predict its every move. Make no mistake, there is still plenty of fun to be had for a solid 90% of the runtime, but it’s only because of Winstead’s gutsy dedication that we’re able to forgive the film for not diving a little deeper or giving us more exposition to work with.
Umair Aleem’s screenplay is far too run-of-the-mill to inspire any surprises beyond what’s already been used in the genre before and it’s a real shame seeing such a talented cast trying to make it work. Similar to 2017’s Ghost In The Shell and more recently, Amazon’s Jolt, Kate has endless opportunities to reinforce the power of femininity in our digital age, but instead chooses to substitute it for well-calibrated action. The narrative unfolds using a handful of thinly-sketched characters driven by Nicolas-Troyan’s cartoonish sense of logic, which makes perfect sense since the director himself stated that he was inspired by the art of anime.
But if Kate does in fact derive from the realms of animation, then it definitely works on a stylistic level. From Lyle Vincent’s eye-catching cinematography that captures the neon-lit landscapes of Tokyo city as if it were some dystopian theme park from the future, to Nathan Barr’s synthetically charged score, the movie does well at keeping the entertainment factor high while looking and sounding damn good in the process. The final product offers little in terms of originality, but seeing a revenge-fuelled Winstead switch into annihilation mode certainly makes up for it. It’s the sort of experience that’s tailor-made for a very specific audience and if you keep that in mind, it’s well worth the ride.
Kate is available to stream on Netflix now.
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