A ruthless criminal the agent is poisoned and has less than 24 hours to avenge his assassins in Kate, a new action thriller from Netflix starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who played Huntress in Birds of prey.
The streaming service seems to be looking for a female version of the hit John Wick franchise, but it’s harder to pull off than it looks. First there were the 2020s The old guard, in which Charlize Theron leads an immortal group of mercenaries on a mission of revenge. Theron was great, but the movie itself was uneven. Last month, Netflix served the disappointing Milkshakes with powder, which had a stellar cast and all the right elements, including some awesome fight choreography. But as with The old guard, nothing really jellied, and while I love Karen Gillan, she seemed ill-suited to the role. Milkshakes with powder ended up feeling flat, predictable, and like an exercise in style rather than substance.
The basic premise of Kate is familiar; it’s basically a twist on the classic 1950s film noir DO A, in which a man – an accountant and a seemingly ordinary notary – walks into a police station and says he has been poisoned, with only a few days to live and find out who murdered him. (Due to someone not renewing the copyright in time, the film is in the public domain.) It inspired three direct remakes: 1969’s Color me dead, years 1988 DO A (with Dennis Quaid) and the 2017 film Death on arrival. And the film has influenced countless others, like the 2006 film Crank, in which Jason Statham plays a British assassin who must keep his adrenaline level at its highest to avoid receiving deadly poison.
Kate seems to be a combination of DO A, Crank, and Milkshakes with powder. According to the official premise: “Meticulous and supernaturally gifted, Kate is the perfect specimen of a finely tuned assassin at the top of her game. But when she unusually misses a mission targeting a Yakuza member in Tokyo, she quickly discovers that she has been poisoned, a brutally slow execution that gives her less than 24 hours to avenge her assassins. As her body rapidly deteriorates, Kate forms an unlikely bond with the teenage daughter of one of her former victims.
I don’t know why the filmmakers seem to think that female murderers have to bond with young girls to show their softer emotional side, but so be it. Director Cédric Nicolas-Troyan received an Oscar nomination for his visual effects for 2012 Snow White and the Hunter and made his directorial debut in 2016 with The Hunter: The Winter War. Based on this trailer, he made excellent use of that experience in Kate. We will have to see if Nicolas-Troyan can take this well-worn formula and make it his own, despite a frankly boring title.
The huntress was my favorite character in Birds of prey, in large part due to Winstead’s deadpan delivery, which attracts both the character’s steadfast determination and his extreme social awkwardness. Case in point: after eliminating several villains with her trademark efficiency and athleticism, she turns to see her compatriots gazing at her in admiration. “What?” she said, completely oblivious to her being a badass. If Winstead has the chance to present this mix of skills again in Kate, she could easily establish her place alongside Charlize Theron as a believable action star.