The art of homage is a difficult balancing act, especially in the world of filmmaking. When something is successful it breeds imitators and others will want to liken their work, copy, or even outright steal from it. Netflix’s latest action extravaganza, Kate, may well be one of the most derivative films recently released, drawing on a deep pool of ideas that have come before.
The story follows the titular heroine Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), an assassin for hire who has spent her life doing hits under the command and tutelage of Varrick (Woody Harrelson). After many years of loyal service, she’s decided to hang up her guns and go straight, but in a twist of fate finds herself spiked with radioactive poison. With only hours to live, she has to work her way up the chain to uncover her own killer and take them down, leading to a hectic flurry of action, as Kate blazes through the streets and lowlifes of Tokyo with gun, knife, and fist like an avenging fury.
Being charitable, Kate could be looked at as a high-octane Tokyo action thriller that takes inspiration from a variety of sources. A less charitable, and far more accurate reading of the film is that Kate is a patchwork quilt of story-beats, visuals, conceptual ideas and even whole scenes lifted from better films. The film is peas-porridge of the oft-remade 1949 film D.O.A., a dash of the Crank movies, and more than a little dollop of Atomic Blonde, all filtered through a half-hearted neon anime styling. The problem is that while this sounds like a recipe for success, the execution and writing is what fails it.
There’s barely a moment in the film that doesn’t feel lifted from somewhere else. Sniping scenes that ape the highs of Grosse Pointe Blank and the lows of Silent Trigger, a car chase that harkens to The Fast and The Furious, a bath-house brawl scene that’s a poor mix of John Wick and Eastern Promises, and a final confrontation that is a shamelessly direct lift from another film about a strong female action hero on a vengeance quest.
That’s in no way to denigrate the work of the cast, who each turn in a solid performance. Winstead proves again, much as she did in Birds of Prey, that she has the chops for action just as soundly as she does for comedy and drama. Harrelson turns in a solid turn as the fatherly mentor and handler figure, who cares more than he should for his charge, and Tadanobu Asano and Jun Kunimara sleepwalk through their Yakuza baddie turns with an ease born of decades of screen experience in far better films. If anything great comes from this film, it’s the breakout performance of Miku Martineau, as the vapid and hyperactive teenage daughter of a Yakuza boss that Kate murdered on a previous mission. It’s a gleefully fun and silly performance, that manages to stay just on the good side of infuriating.
The real tragedy of Kate is that the film has a huge amount going for it; a great location, fantastic actors, a solid budget, and some decent stunt work, and yet it fails to utilise any of these aspects beyond the most basic. That’s the real tragedy. It’s like a child’s first story, taking pieces of everything they like and thrown together with a clumsy hand. It’s quaint, and at times amusing, but ultimately it’s forgettable derivative fluff.
Available now on Netflix