There’s nothing particularly inventive about the Netflix action thriller Kate – from the director of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan – the streamer’s umpteenth bullets over brains offering this year, but there’s also nothing particularly heinous in its execution, a to-the-point two-hour slab of pulp that slickly glides above a very low bar. The platform’s flatly directed, often incompetently choreographed churn of action content has meant that a sudden whiff of style and a glimpse of an actual location suddenly jolts one from a drift of sleep to a mild amount of attention.
That’s just about the amount that this deserves, a serviceable Friday night choice that gets the job done just fine, enough to turn it into a hit for the streamer (the far less convincing Jason Momoa actioner Sweet Girl skirted around their top 10 for much longer than deserved) but not quite enough to insist that anyone actually bothers to make time for it, unless drunk or out of all other options. It’s cobbled together from so many familiar ingredients that I was surprised to find out that an actual human (Umair Aleem) wrote it rather than some sort of computer and even viewers with a vague knowledge of the assassin subgenre will feel a suffocating sense of deja vu from the cold open onwards.
It’s Osaka and trained killer Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is prepping for a job accompanied by her boss, mentor and father figure Varrick (Woody Harrelson). But as her mark gets into view, she sees that his daughter is by his side, her “no kids” rule stopping her from making a clean shot. She’s urged to pull the trigger, wel, en 10 months later, finds herself still quietly haunted by what she did. It’s time to quit but on her last job, Kate is given irreversible radiation poisoning and has just 24 hours to figure out who wants her dead and why.
The quest reunites her with the girl she orphaned (because of course) which lumbers the film with an age-old trope of the cold-blooded killer who warms around the presence of a child. It’s a particularly frustrating way used by mostly male screenwriters to humanise female killers, also used recently in Netflix’s other neon-hued assassin film of the summer Gunpowder Milkshake, as if strong-willed women need to be reminded of their maternal instincts. Kate is told that she is less a person and more of an instrument and despite Winstead trying her very best, that’s far too true of the character, even by the finale, who does little more than point and shoot. The attempts to show that she does actually have some individualism and distinguishability are too mild (she likes lemon soda) and too rote (she stares at kids sometimes because ovaries) and so despite the film being named after her character, Kate is utterly anonymous.
The film around her is at least a tad more realised, directed with a rambunctious energy and while Nicolas-Troyan’s influences are worn on his sleeves and entire outfit as a whole, he’s able to give Kate that much-needed boost that makes it into a real movie rather than a Netflix movie. There’s a wild, kinetic car chase and some nifty, gory fight scenes and a real sense of place, utilising the ability to actually shoot on location (onthou, low bar). Die 24 hours to die gimmick is of course nothing new (it recalls both 1950’s DOA and its 80s remake as well as countless copycats) but the radiation touch is at least an effectively gnarly update as Kate’s body slowly disintegrates over the course of the movie. It does of course make her superhuman fighting abilities a little bit harder to believe as her condition worsens (epipens can only do so much against polonium) but it’s clear from the outset that we’re not headed towards a happy ending.
When the last act strikes, Aleem isn’t able to find a way to reveal the twisty, if predictably so, plot with much finesse and so we’re stuck with a laughable exposition dump between two nefarious characters each telling us things they already know. Winstead maintains our attention, wel, as she limps to some sort of retribution, as pointless as it might be with death a few cough-ups of blood away, her punches continuing to land with more impact than any eye-rolling attempts at profundity do. There will be more action thrillers like Kate on the way to Netflix (both Jennifer Lopez and Jessica Alba have similar films coming) but here’s hoping, and praying, that this level of basic competency can be matched with a bit more personality in the future.