"Kate" is a revenge movie with a dying assassin as its lead. Now you know most of the story.
As the titular killer stationed in Japan, Mary Elizabeth Winstead kicks ass on an order of magnitude above her work as Huntress in the underrated "Birds of Prey" (heaven forbid the DCEU make an actually fun movie — and how can audiences not support "The Suicide Squad"? — but I digress).
Easygoin' Kate has a cute interaction with fatherly handler Varrick (Woody Harrelson) before executing a messy hit that splatters young Ani (Miku Martineau) with bits of Ani's dad. Months later, Kate is slipped a slow-acting poison that gives her about 24 hours to kill the folks who targeted her.
Don't ask why they slipped the Deadliest Woman Alive a slow-acting poison, or if that were their thing, why they didn't lock themselves down for a night while she kicked the bucket.
There are few surprising moments. There's a template to be followed and "Kate" does so, like clockwork. There are the scheduled betrayals, plus the customary reluctant closeness between Kate and Ani.
Not much energy is invested in dialogue or character development. The obligatory flashbacks to Kate's formative years as a hit woman trainee fail to explore her interior world. A deeper gaze might have lent pathos not only to her, but her relationship with Ani.
Those concerns aren't high priorities. This is an 87North production, spawned by folks behind "John Wick" and "Atomic Blonde," so it's a form-over-substance exercise. And that's OK. Just be grateful "Kate" doesn't seem to belong to the burgeoning Wickipedia, thus isn't weighed down by its increasingly burdensome pretensions.
"Kate" has its charms. Martineau brings the right amount of sass to Ani. Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (an Oscar nominee for the VFX of "Snow White and the Huntsman") achieves a slick, neon-nightmare Tokyo with the considerable help of Lyle Vincent's impressive cinematography and Dominic Watkins' immersive production design. As required, Jonathan Eusebio's stunt coordination is top notch.
One of its most entertaining duels to the death is an elegantly choreographed face off between yakuza higher-ups. However, the standout fight is between Kate and a dude who looks like a boy band member who's also a yakuza enforcer. The actor, Miyavi, is a Japanese singer-songwriter, producer and absolutely ripping guitarist. Evidently, he can also act and fight. He should definitely make more American movies.
Speaking of which, Tadanobu Asano feels wasted in an underdeveloped yakuza-boss role; this guy is really good and deserves better (American audiences know him from the "Thor" movies; he was flat-out great in the criminally underseen "Last Life in the Universe").
That said, if you're signing up for an assassin revenge movie with Winstead entertainingly kicking ass, you're going to get one.
MPAA rating: R (for strong bloody violence and language throughout)
Running time: 1:46
Where to watch: Now streaming on Netflix