Action films can be a dime a dozen. Some, like "Lethal Weapon," stand the test of time and remain favorites to this day. Others, like "Edge of Darkness," fade into obscurity because they're bland and terrible. (The rise and fall of Mel Gibson.)
Over the last few months, Netflix has dropped some "run and gun" action movies, like "Gunpowder Milkshake" and "Sweet Girl." Neither was great, but the streaming giant seems to have found success in its latest flick, "Kate."
The movie stars Woody Harrelson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the latter of whom showed everyone in "Birds of Prey" that she was ready to carry her own action film. Winstead plays an assassin named Kate who kills a target in front of his daughter and considers retiring because she can't shake the guilt.
As with most action movies, Kate has "one last job" to finish, and she ends up hospitalized with a deadly radiation poisoning and given 24 hours to live. It's a slightly worse prognosis than Jason Statham got in "Crank."
The rest of the movie is about Kate trying to kill her last target as revenge for poisoning her, even though she was poisoned seemingly in revenge for killing the target at the beginning of the film. (Revenge is bad, kids.)
SET IN JAPAN
"Kate" is set in Japan, and it leans really hard into that environment with bright neon colors, a fight scene at a club that appears to be a kabuki performance, an underground punk rock show with cosplay and more. Anime fans should love "Kate" because it really does embrace those high energy vibes with wacky and ultra violent action often found in Japanese animation.
Hell, at one point it looks like the anime "Tokyo Ghoul" is playing on the side of a skyscraper while Kate waits for a target with her rifle.
This movie succeeds in every area where "Gunpowder Milkshake" failed. Winstead doesn't have to try hard to be a formidable action hero. Karen Gillan tried way too hard to come across as a convincing killer in her Netflix action movie, and it resulted in a bland lead that killed her movie. But Winstead? She has done the killer role before, and audiences know her action swagger is legitimate.
And while "Gunpowder Milkshake" tried to establish a cute yet deadly aesthetic in the first five to 10 minutes, it ultimately failed to commit. "Kate" institutes an ultra-violent neon theme with guaranteed death on the line and manages to stick the landing.
Winstead does a fantastic job playing a killer with a conscience as she struggles with the image of a girl crying over her father's bleeding corpse burned into her head. And in a cruel twist, Winstead has to use the girl audiences will come to know as Ani (Miku Martineau) to draw her uncle out of hiding so the dying assassin can kill her final target.
Martineau gives a solid performance, starting off as a rightfully distraught teenager dragged away from a concert she was enjoying and moving on to a (sort of) younger sister working to help Kate after the gang that had been protecting Ani decides they'd be better off killing her.
It's actually heartbreaking when Ani points out that nobody cares about her, and everyone treats her like garbage after her father was killed by Kate. She's so desperate for someone, anyone, to care about her that she cozies up to an assassin with less than 24 hours to live, all because Kate saved her life once.
"Kate" takes time for very small moments that show Ani's quick bonding with Kate, someone she's convinced finally gives a rip about her. Ani buys her a cute shirt, gives Kate her sunglasses, takes selfies with her and even kills a man to save Kate's life. She's all in for this killer that just hours earlier had taken her hostage to lure out Ani's uncle. And Martineau portrays all of this convincingly.
'WONDERFULLY VIOLENT ACTION'
This is Cedric Nicolas-Troyan's second time in the director's seat, and he does a great job driving the story forward. The film is filled with wonderfully violent action sequences audiences will be invested in because Winstead is someone interesting they want to follow until the end. "Kate" serves up some downright brutal deaths, a man's face pushed down into a flaming grill, another goon electrocuted on some power lines and scores of people stabbed and shot to pieces.
The camera work for most fights is clean and even occasionally offers up some visual treats, like flipping when Kate gets flipped over and thrown down onto a table.
"Kate" serves up a full course of entertaining action scenes, from a brief car chase to gun battles and knife fights. But the movie also gets points for showing guns do require skill to use. During one fight when Kate is getting her tail handed to her, Ani keeps trying to figure out how to load a pistol and use it. And when she finally does, she ends up shooting Kate by mistake. It's a good reminder for audiences that guns require a lot of care and training to use properly. Action movies rarely take time to show that.
The makeup artists for "Kate" also did a fantastic job of making her look like she was quickly dying from radiation poisoning. Kate just gets sicker and sicker as the movie continues, on top of being put through the physical hell of being shot, stabbed, kicked, knocked through walls and tables and more.
Also on point? The soundtrack for "Kate." It's full of Japanese pop and rock songs to match the vibe of this movie perfectly.
WHERE IT FALLS SHORT
Where this film falls a little short is Harrelson, who isn't given much to do throughout the movie. Though he certainly fights to overcome this with his charisma, ultimately an actor of his caliber feels wasted given how underused he is.
"Kate" also falls victim to a classic action movie cliche twist most audiences should pick out about 10 minutes into the movie. It doesn't come as a surprise, more a minor agitation.
The film serves up few laughs, but the one or two it offers are legitimately funny. "Kate" seems to have pulled Harrelson's "Zombieland" gag of looking for a specific treat throughout the movie and not finding it anywhere.
It's refreshing to see Netflix deliver a solid "run and gun" film with a woman in the driver's seat. Winstead was the perfect choice to lead this movie. Maybe she needs to appear with Charlize Theron in "The Old Guard" sequel.
You can watch "Kate" streaming on Netflix starting today.