Eradicate any inkling that Kate might strike a resemblance to the 2000s daredevil actioner Crank—director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan is neither Mark Neveldine nor Brian Taylor. Any semblances between expiring assassins pit against the clock begin and end with faint thematic reverberations. Umair Aleem’s screenplay weighs heavy the scales of consequence against revenge by allowing another white action hero to invade foreign soil. In the case of Kate, cinematographer Lyle Vincent capitalizes on Japan’s neo-noir luminescence that saturates Tokyo alleyways otherwise drenched in spilled blood, littered with bullet casings, and tainted by Western toxicity spreading through Eastern criminal syndications.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as a professional killer since childhood (somewhat Black Widow style) raised by her handler, father figure, and employer Varrick (Woody Harrelson). One can presume the career hazards that come along with eliminating yakuza targets selected by the highest bidder, which eventually catch up to Kate. While on a mission, Kate begins feeling woozy and showing symptoms of illness—she’s been fatally poisoned. There’s no time like the present when tomorrow doesn’t exist, as Kate kidnaps the surviving daughter of a previous mark (Ani, played by Miku Patricia Martineau) connected to the assumed villain responsible.
No, Mary Elizabeth Winstead isn’t Jason Statham—please, erase those Crank expectations. Action lends itself more to Atomic Blonde or John Wick in stylistic opulence, specifically lifting visual cues from the window-translucent skyscraper brawl in John Wick: Chapter 3–Parabellum. Action filmmakers frequently chase whatever high is currently en vogue, which right now stresses technical but fluid fight choreography under hazy metropolitan nightlights of the pastel-pop variety. Vincent nails those shots as the titular tactician becomes an outlined silhouette mid-massacre or borrows from paper-walled dojo sequences that become longshots panning room to room as thugs are beaten snotless. Kate pays attention to the less considered, brutally embellished details like crimson blood spraying onto white-and-black sliding doors or Kate cocking her pistol on a henchman’s face because she only has a sole hand free—we get those exhilarating mid-combat beats that make adrenaline chasers smile.
Credit Winstead with embodying all the depth her outcast, ticking-clock killer caught in a system requires whether that’s whooping asses with Gun Fu or navigating her Léon: The Professional arc with Miku Patricia Martineau’s Ani. Name any Winstead vehicle, and I’ll show you a film where Winstead impresses—I’m enamored by the actor’s take on Kate’s vigilantism. There’s a brilliant bathhouse gag where Kate embarrasses another nobody yakuza footsoldier as his steamy, tattooed elders explode with laughter. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the attitude and imposition Winstead achieves, whether fully loaded or clinging to consciousness as the poison’s exterior wounds swallow her scars. Kate’s eyes hemorrhage, her lacerations sting, and bones ache from being slammed into kitchen appliances—Winstead has so much fun playing the battered-and-badass hero (anti-hero, whatever), staring down an unpredictable afterlife without a submissive flinch.
If all sounds overwhelmingly positive, here’s the hook. Kate benefits from Japanese marketplace battles where cheeks sear on charcoal grills and a J-rock infused soundtrack that’ll kickstart your heart with electric guitar crunches (BAND-MAID appears in concert), but it’s woefully predictable. Storyboards might as well be paint-by-numbers inserts from a rookie action writer’s illustrated guide, which makes a modest (for Netflix) hour-and-forty-five duration somehow feel longer. Winstead and Martineau’s characters share traumatic chemistry that solemnly colors their “brat vs. bruiser” banter elsewhere; it’s just there’s an obvious trajectory their union presents. Twists are largely incapable throughout Kate, as dramatic escalations skip ahead to keep pace with Kate’s next dispatch of unworthy competitors. You’re here for the action, but Nicolas-Troyan struggles to pretend like other aspects can shoulder some supportive heft.
Kate hopes its colder Japanese skylines with pink afterglow signage, familiar takes on yakuza honorability, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead can elevate relatively commonplace navigations of a mercenary’s moral gauntlet. The administration of a 24-hour countdown pegs an inherent intensity as every second matters—but I can’t say Cedric Nicolas-Troyan makes them all count. Winstead sure does with a come-get-some grin, if only the rudimentary faction in-fighting subplots weren’t so readable. It’s a film summarized by glimpses of decapitations and cotton-candy-underlit street roadsters that certainly aren’t Kate’s definition of inconspicuous, because other sequences are serviceably forgettable. Still, I retain my moviegoing motto: in MEW we trust.