Considered strictly as a resume-builder for Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kate (2021) is a smashing success. Otherwise, this medium-concept action thriller from Netflix is over-familiar, predictable, and empty. Winstead stars as Kate, an elite assassin involved in a long-game operation against the yakuza in Japan. An assignment-gone-wrong convinces her to inform her avuncular handler Verrick (Woody Harrelson) that she’s planning to retire soon. Not long after, her mission to take out the powerful Kijima (Jun Kunimura) goes disastrously wrong when she learns she’s been fatally poisoned. With less than twenty-four hours to live, Kate undertakes a final mission of vengeance, but not before her last-ditch attempts to avenge her own murder land her in an unexpected alliance with Ani (Miku Martineau), the young daughter of a gangster, who helps her find closure.
With the exception of one flashy but spectacularly unconvincing CGI car chase, Kate is a generally a well executed production with impressive cinematography, set design, and fight sequences. That, combined with Winstead’s charismatic performance in a physically demanding role, makes it easy on the eye — provided you’ve got a strong stomach for extremely bloody violence. Of course, Kate’s superhuman constitution in the face of overwhelming physical stress is wildly unrealistic, but that seems an unavoidable trope of the genre these days. Winstead sells it with aplomb, establishing solid street cred as an action star. Unfortunately, the time constraints of the premise and a script full of expected turns and pro forma dialogue rather undercuts the overall result. Indeed, the plot hinges largely on an unlikely, rapidly developing emotional connection between Kate and young Ani — one that flows illogically from events and never entirely lands. Winstead and Martineau help matters with an effective onscreen rapport, but it’s hardly enough to make Kate a memorable, successful story. The best-case scenario here is that the film entertains action fans for a couple of hours while landing Winstead more high-profile roles in the future.