I love movies about kick-ass female heroines as much as the next person, but KATE (2021), a new action flick starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the latest woman who kills first and asks questions later, suffers from the been there done that syndrome.
Especially because if follows so closely upon the heels of GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (2021) and JOLT (2021), two other action movies featuring kick-ass female leads, and worse, shares too many similarities with both these movies. Of the three, GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE is the most visually stunning, has the best fight choreography, and is the overall best of the lot.
In KATE, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate, an assassin who works for her handler Varrick (Woody Harrelson) who has been her protector since she was a young girl, grooming her to become an assassin from a very young age. Currently in Japan, Kate’s mission is to take out various members of a powerful mob family, but before she can finish the job, she is poisoned. With only 24 hours to live, she sets out to seek vengeance against the members of this family who she believes poisoned her. Along the way, she befriends Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau), a teenage girl belonging to this clan who feels betrayed by her family, as she believes they murdered her father, although the truth is, her father was killed by Kate.
And that’s pretty much the plot of this one.
While the plot point of Kate having only 24 hours to live is different from the stories told in the two movies mentioned above, that’s about the only difference. The rest is all too similar and familiar. In fact, KATE and GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE both share the same plot point of the young girl becoming friends with the person who murdered her father.
As such, the screenplay by Umair Aleem is just so-so. It’s not overly original, and the longer the story plays out, the more tired it becomes. The plot twist later on involving Woody Harrelson’s character can be seen coming a mile away mostly because it’s been done so many times before. The dialogue is also not a strength here.
KATE is visually impressive, however. Director Cedric Nicholas-Troyan captures the brilliant and vibrant colors of its Tokyo locale. But the fight scenes, while frequent, hard-hitting, and violent, didn’t impress me all that much. They lacked the ingenuity and creativity of similar scenes in GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE. There were a couple of cool nods however to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character.
You can’t go wrong with Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a movie, and that holds true with KATE. She’s excellent in the lead role, and while I wasn’t nuts about the fight scenes, that’s not Winstead’s fault. She’s pretty believable as the take-no-prisoners assassin here. I’ve been a fan of Winstead’s since her role in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010). She has also delivered notable performances in such films as THE THING (2011) and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016).
Woody Harrelson, on the other hand, fails to impress here as Kate’s handler Varrick. Harrelson is usually the type of actor who creates characters you can’t stop watching, but here, Varrick is shoved into the background for most of the movie, and when he does appear, it’s an uncharacteristic subdued performance by Harrelson.
Miku Patricia Martineau is fun as Ani, although the role is so far from original it’s getting to be a cliche, the hip teen looking for acceptance and befriended by the very person who harmed her family.
Jun Kunimura makes for a respectable villain, Kijima, and his scenes with Mary Elizabeth Winstead are some of the better ones in the movies, certainly in terms of writing. He gets some of the best lines in the film, deep lines, not the kind of macho bravado one usually gets from a mob leader. And Tadanobu Asano makes for another notable villain, Renji.
Then there’s Michiel Huisman, who shows up as a man who Kate meets at a bar, and is directly involved in her poisoning. This is nearly the same exact role Huisman played in the recent TV series THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT (2020), except that overnight encounter with the main female character led to his being murdered. His role here is a small one and he’s hardly noticeable, which is too bad, because he’s had some memorable performances, in the TV show THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) and the underrated horror movie THE INVITATION (2015).
KATE belongs to a genre I like a lot, the female action hero flick, but in this case it’s all a bit too familiar with fight scenes that didn’t wow me as much as I expected and characters that didn’t seem fresh and exciting
I liked the “having only 24 hours to live” gimmick, but other than that, this one didn’t offer much of anything that I hadn’t seen before.
KATE is a decent action movie but simply isn’t original enough to be a very good one.