Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Miku Martineau, Jun Kunimura
People wonder why other people watch slasher movies when – crude violence aside – so many of them are interchangeable. I watch my share and it’s true; what you get in one isn’t often much different to what you’ll find in another. But therein lies the comfort. The formula is simple and solid. Sometimes knowing what’s coming is the point. It’s the same with other genres. With rom-coms. With the MCU. And, recently especially, a certain brand of action movie.
Drawing influences from video games, anime and the neon aesthetics of Drive and John Wick, the lean assassin model has been bankrolled a number of times over in the past decade. Atomic Blonde. Nobody. Ava… The latest to arrive is Kate on Netflix, in which Mary Elizabeth Winstead is our titular killing machine. An expert shot, a skilled driver, a martial arts master… she’s exactly the character you’d expect, stalking the shadows of Japan with her handler Varrick (Woody Harrelson) not far behind.
There’s little that differentiates this outing from its brethren. Kate wants out after the presence of a kid at a hit sours her taste for the life. When she’s spiked with a lethal dose of radiation poisoning thanks to a mysterious stranger named Stephen (Michiel Huisman), Kate has 24 hours to find out why, exact vengeance and, if at all possible, find herself a cure. If ending up with a child sidekick (Miku Martineau) seems like a new wrinkle, it also manages to engender cliché as much as anything else.
Kate moves briskly enough, but doesn’t dare to colour outside of the lines. Speaking of palettes, we’re comfortably within boundaries. Cool blues dominate, streaked through on occasion with eye-popping pinks. Varying locations allow interiors to add flashes of variety. Characterisation is lean, Nathan Barr’s music is rhythmic, paying consistent tribute to traditional Japanese styles and, hey, video games. DP Lyle Vincent frames neatly and fight sequences (edited by Sandra Montiel and Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir) are decently choreographed and presented. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan gets the requisite from his departments.
The paucity of surprises in the narrative splits both ways, of course. On the one-hand, Kate really doesn’t offer anything new. Same old, sale old doesn’t exactly engender enthusiasm. On the other, knowing what you’re going to get and seeing those boxes ticked brings a casual satisfaction all of it’s own. Feel free to spend half the running time on your phone and job done. But is that really the legacy that the cast and crew here dreamed of?
Winstead, unsurprisingly, is a major coup for the project, and is maybe the main reason to keep this one from disappearing down your never-ending Watchlist. 15 years after grabbing attention with her screen presence in the likes of Final Destination 3, she remains a commanding performer. Ever a physical actor, she’s not exactly stretched by the requirements of Kate, but nor does she phone it in. She’s as suitably solid as needed.
Efficiency is really the beginning and the end of the story here. Kate is totally fine. It fulfills its own mandate. It is functionally fit for purpose. The dialogue could’ve used some work and originality is missing, but ultimately, these aren’t qualities anyone reasonably expects more of within this kind of remit. Just like a slasher. Just like most rom-coms. Just like the MCU. Kate delivers the anticipated and nothing more.