Kate is a gorgeous yet empty action picture with all the frosting and no cake.
Kate (2021) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on September 23, 2021
Rating 2 /5
Kate exists as a neon action picture that only uses its palette to paint strictly by the numbers. It moves fast, features lots of bloody action, and is certainly stylish enough to mesmerize the eyes as characters battle across the decadent nightlife of Tokyo. Direction-wise, it’s a pretty spiffy-looking picture. If only the script were as well thought out.
There’s very little in this picture to separate it from the myriad of other colorful action pictures with kick-butt women, especially on Netflix with its slew of similar pictures. Remember Gunpowder Milkshake? Even with that film's retro allure and costumed characters, I’m certain it will be lumped into being confused with this picture for being just as unmemorable.
Consider the titular character played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Kate is a hired killer who is seeking to place that exciting life of car chases and violence behind her for what she deems as a normal life. She relays this information to her superior, played with little inspiration by the usually dependable Woody Harrelson. One last job, she figures, is all she needs. Of course, her next job may be her last when she is poisoned while on the job. During her mission, she also runs across an orphaned girl and takes her in as her protege/daughter stand-in.
There’s already a lot of overlap here with other pictures and there’s little to make it stand out. There’s a running tongue-in-cheek joke about Kate seeking a certain lemon drink but it’s not nearly as clever as the film wants us to believe. There’s a feud of yakuza where Kate tracks down connections and speaks of honor but it’s mostly a routine exercise in using swords amid guns. There are also some small twists that can be spotted a mile away if you’ve ever seen a film where the violent protagonist goes rogue for being betrayed by their organization.
The fights on their own are not bad. There are some pretty neat moments of slicing and dicing as well as some brutal gunfights. The sights of Kate and company dashing through the Japanese streets in an absurdly lit car also look pretty good on their own. But after the violence loses its edge and colorful sights become common, the film offers little in terms of its tale of a hitman. Despite how intricate the fight scenes appear, they’re devoid of either the grit to stress serious or the zing to make them thrilling bouts. The violence ultimately ends up more predictable and monotonous than genuinely entertaining.
All of this is enough to make one question if this is all there really is to this genre. Do hitmen only think of a normal life, take in kids of the people they kill, and end up betrayed by their superiors? If such aspects are so common to these types of films, wouldn’t the more skilled hitman have noticed these tired tropes by now? The audience should certainly be wise enough by now.
Kate is a gorgeous yet empty action picture with all the frosting and no cake. Even as an exercise in showcasing a lot of blood and brutality, the picture becomes so routine it’s sure to be easily compared to Gunpowder Milkshake, Jolt, Atomic Blonde, and a host of similar pictures. With a name so generic, it’s sure to be lost in that crowd as well.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.