Mladen and Del review ‘Kate’
“Kate” Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Miku Patricia Martineau, Jun Kunimura, Woody Harrelson, Tadanobu Asano. Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
106 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.
My deep love for Mary Elizabeth Winstead remains unabated. She’s terrific in “Kate,” the new brawler film on Netflix. She’s been terrific for years. McClane’s daughter in “Live Free or Die Hard.” Terrific as a different Kate in “The Thing” prequel. Beyond superb in “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Should have been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar but the Academy dislikes sci-fi and horror. Assholes. Winstead was the only reason “Gemini Man” was tolerable. I bet she’s terrific in “Birds of Prey” as The Huntress.
Other critics have somewhat panned “Kate.” I attribute that to silly expectations. Should anyone believe a movie about an assassin will offer us anything fundamentally original or mind boggling? No. Hell, even the John Wick trilogy gets weaker as it progresses.
Let’s take this A- movie for what it is. Winstead showing us that Theron (“The Old Guard’) and Chastain (“Ava”) are OK as killers. Garner in “Peppermint” gives Winstead a better run for her money. Blunt in “The Edge of Tomorrow” better still.
Winstead is plausible physically as a trigger puller and martial arts master. Her action scenes in “Kate” are executed adroitly and confidently, lacking what I call “girl lag.” You know, that slight femininity that makes it look like a punch is thrown with hesitation or accompanied by circumspection. There also might be a pinch of awkwardness. It’s like the difference between a guy’s handwriting – generally angular, sloppy, careless, unreadable – and a gal’s – generally flowing, clean, loopy, soft.
By now, Del is, like, where the fuck is the summary, Mladen?
Here’s the summary. Kate is an orphan befriended and trained by Varrick (Woody Harrelson) to kill people. Bad people, which, of course, makes Kate a White Hat assassin. Now an adult with a string of wins, Kate is tasked with a hit. The target is the second-in-command of a powerful Yakuza clan. The top lieutenant is also the brother of clan boss Kijima (played by Jun Kunimura, who I also adore because he’s in a goodly number of Godzilla films, including “Shin Godzilla”).
The hit is a success, sort of. Kate is ordered to take out Sato (Koji Nishiyama), though he’s with his young daughter. Ani (portrayed by Miku Patricia Martineau) takes her father’s blood spray in the face as the first bullet nudges aside neck and the second perforates both temples. Some months later, Kate is slipped Polonium 204. It’s a revenge killing ordered by who? No, not Putin. As her body deteriorates – there’s no antidote for acute radiation poisoning – Kate regains her humanity while first exploiting and then protecting a precocious Ani as she hunts for her killer. Don’t listen to Del when he tells you that Martineau steals the show. Watch Winstead in the public toilet of some Tokyo back alley act human, though her skin is bruising, has sores, and hemorrhages. In fact, always pay attention to Winstead’s face. It expresses as much as the words she speaks. Love it to no end.
The car chase in the film is hokey but the rest of the action blisters. Knife fights. Gun fights. Pure hand-to-hand. Lots of blood. Lot of cussing. Everything I want in an action thriller that has no purpose other than to entertain and make you say every now and then, “No way” or “Damn, girl” while cringing with delight from the protruding blade pushed through a nasal septum.
The “Kate” score fits with the bright lights of a big Japanese city. The soundtrack is a bunch of wonderful Japanese technopopelectronicapunk.
Well done, Mary Elizabeth, if I may call you by your first name. Just make sure you don’t end up pigeon-holed as an action star. Your acting chops are Amy Adams-like. Do drama. Do cerebral sci-fi. Go experimental. It’s only a matter of time before the gold statuette is in your hands.
Easy there, Tiger. You keep swingin’ that libido like a baseball bat and you’re gonna put somebody’s eye out.
Mladen is talking about two separate issues – “Kate,” the movie, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the actor. OK, let’s do that.
Up first: Winstead.
I’ve seen several of her movies but her role in “Kate” is the first to leave an impression. I wonder why? I’ve decided it’s because she’s superb as an assassin. She has a watchability I can’t wrap my head around. I mean, she’s undeniably beautiful, with a uniquely expressive face. But there’s more to it than mere beauty. She brings a swagger to the role that other actors – Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Garner, for instance – fail to muster. She’s a much better Ripley than Katherine Waterston and that’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it? Ellen Ripley. “Aliens.” The “Get away from her you bitch!” role that set the bar for badassery among lady action figures. When the tank tops come out and the hair comes off, you know the shell casings are about to fly.
Winstead approaches her character with an understated and off-kilter confidence that was hobbled by a lame script, which always seemed to veer into the predictable just when you thought the movie was about to show you something new. That’s a shame because I think with better material Winstead could have gone toe to toe with Sigourney Weaver. Instead, we are given only moments of brilliance.
Another fine performance is delivered by – yes, Mladen – Miku Patricia Martineau, who excels as snotty Ani, a girl for whom life is nothing more than a sad simulation of her online reality, given meaning only through selfies, drama and Kate’s Terminator-like determination to complete her mission of vengeance. Ani is only a small planet orbiting Kate’s star but she revels in the baking heat when Kate goes nova.
One more comment about the acting and I’ll move along. Woody Harrelson plays Kate’s mentor and overseer, a kind of Charlie to her Angel, and I can’t decide if I hated him or the role. Harrelson played it with a loopy fatigue you see from Bruce Willis these days, but the role itself seemed poorly defined and a little too muted for its eventual octane rating.
That can be our segue into Mladen’s other second issue – the movie itself.
Is it entertaining? Absolutely. Is it original. Absolutely not. In fact, it seemed Frankensteined from just about every other recent action movie. What you get is a gumbo of clichés and soupy dialogue.
Not only that but all the characters in this rogues gallery are unlikeable, including Kate herself, the loveable assassin with a conscience. It was like watching high-decibel anti-vaxxers die of COVID-19. There’s a karmic justice at work here, yes, but the human being in you cringes as you see that metaphysical balancing go about its ugly business.
And the movie is a non-stop bloodbath. Between Kate’s wrecking ball tour of Tokyo’s Yakuza underworld to the toll on her body taken by the polonium 204, you will either avert your eyes or stop the movie and excuse yourself to the restroom.
If you’re a fan of action movies and especially those that feature a female protagonist, you’ll love “Kate.” It’s a brawl all right, with lots of firepower, graphic violence and gore. Beware of the treadworn plot and thin broth of dialogue.
I grade it a low B.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.