The heroine of “Kate” (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, left) takes charge of protecting teenage Ani (Miku Martineau). | Netflix
With hours to live, the killer takes on a sidekick and pursues revenge in stylish action thriller.
Finally, a stylish and ultra-violent and wildly over-the-top action thriller about a female assassin who was trained to be a killing machine since she was a child and has an older male father-figure mentor played by a great veteran actor and wouldn’t you know it, she’s worn out her welcome and now the target is on HER back!
Why, we haven’t seen such a setup since Karen Gillan and Paul Giamatti starred in “Gunpowder Milkshake” way back in July of, well, this year, followed by “The Protégé” with Maggie Q and Samuel L. Jackson in August — so it’s been nearly a month! This time around, the always compelling Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the titular character and Woody Harrelson is her wise and cunning counsel Varrick, who has schooled Kate in the science and art of mercenary killings and can be totally trusted no matter what, right? Right? (Sidebar: Winstead also played the trained killer Helena/Huntress in “Birds of Prey,” but come on, that was back in February.)
So, yes: “Kate” is “John Wick” meets “Die Hard” meets “Collateral” meets “Kill Bill all the Volumes” and we’ve seen it all before and you’re not going to get much in the way of original plot, but what you WILL get is a grindhouse of a good time with some bleak and wickedly sharp humor, screen-popping visuals and some pretty great fight choreography.
Set in a hyper-realistic, saturated-neon Tokyo, “Kate” stars Winstead as a cold-blooded sniper who has crossed the wrong people and has been injected with a deadly serum that will wreak grotesque havoc on her body over the course of about 15 hours before she dies, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. (Hey, in “Gunpowder Milkshake,” Gillan was jabbed with a serum but it only paralyzed her.) As Kate weaves her way through Tokyo’s underworld with revenge on her mind, she finds an unlikely sidekick in Ani (Miku Martineau), who thinks Kate is a real life-terminator and a true badass and just cooler than cool and doesn’t know Kate is the one who made her an orphan. (Hey, we had also had that plot development in “Gunpowder Milkshake”!)
Truth be told, Winstead as Kate does look cooler than cool, with her blood-spattered smiley face T-shirt and her oversized plastic sunglasses and a way of walking that makes her look like she’s in slow motion even when she’s not in slow motion. And when Kate isn’t slicing and shooting up dozens of interchangeable Yakuza hit men all over Toyko or racing through the streets in a muscle car that’s so tricked out the “Fast & Furious” crew would suggest it be toned down a notch, she’s doing everything she can to protect Ani and to make her understand that just because Ani comes from gangster lineage, she doesn’t have to be part of that life. How sweet!
Woody Harrelson can do this kind of world-weary, duplicitous character in his sleep and he’s as good as you’d expect him to be, while the Japanese rock star/actor known as Miyavi is fantastic as a superstar hitman with a real sense of style. Miku Martineau is terrific as Ani, who tells a roomful of hitmen they’re all about to die at the hands of Kate and when informed there are 20 of them, cracks, “Then you’re OUTNUMBERED.” Mostly, though, this is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s film to carry, and while we know there are stunt people and makeup artists and special effects and a whole lot of other stuff helping along the way, Winstead is mightily impressive in the action moments when we can see it’s really her, alternately funny and self-deprecating and desperate and determined as the clock ticks toward her inevitable death, and just plain badass throughout.