In 2017, Umair Aleem — who jotted the abysmal Bruce Willis’ action film Extraction — wrote a screenplay that made it to ‘The Blacklist’, an industry insider list that selects and rates the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood.

The presumably “hot” title, Kate — about a dying assassin seeking revenge — triggered a bidding war and was snatched up by Netflix to go into immediate production, with a 25 million dollar budget.

Now that the film is out, and the sum of its parts are considerably less than the hubbub it instigated, one should replace “hot” with “moderately lukewarm.”

Mary Elizabeth Winstead — her expressions bored and the monotone of her voice pronounced — plays the titular character with a likely story: her parents are murdered in front of her eyes when she is a child, and is soon tutored to be an unstoppable assassin by a kind-hearted but predictably unscrupulous manager of hit-men and hit-women (Woody Harrelson; cashing an easy paycheck).

Neither kinetic nor very engaging, Kate is mired in its impulses to be a facsimile of genre tropes and trending visual styles

Kate, who never misses her mark, has an assassin’s creed: she never kills in front of a child, because of her backstory.

It’s a rule she breaks within the first five minutes of the film.

Another five or so minutes later — which is 10 months in the film’s timeline — Kate is slipped a fatal dose of a radioactive chemical that leaves her only 24 hours of life to get revenge. The catch is, the only one who can get her to her murderers is the very child whose dad she killed 10 months ago (Miku Martineau).

Neither kinetic nor as engaging, Kate is mired in its impulses to be a facsimile of genre tropes and trending visual styles. At its best, it aspires to nick the finest aspects of revenge action films, say John Wick — which it’s not by a long-shot — without remorse or ingenuity.

Set in Tokyo, a land foreign enough to international viewers yet oddly familiar to films of this type (the colourless, sterile impression of Japan lends itself to the genre nicely), Kate is a rare mix of present-day aesthetics infused with retrograde nostalgia. Bright neon signposts light the dark nights of the city as the synthwave background score pulsates the rhythm of the scenes.

Synthwave music was once the rage at the time of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and defined 1990’s cyberpunk anime; the genre is trending again today and suits the feel Kate promises to set-up.

But within minutes, you notice Kate’s main flaw: it doesn’t go all out.

With ticking-clock story mechanics at play (the lead character only has hours to live), most of the body count happens on the run in posh, minimally decorated apartments, dark and suffocating alleyways, congested nightclubs, and elite Yakuza-owned clubs that have thin separators for walls. Despite the implied rush and the escalating death-toll, the pace decelerates, as the production design shifts between moods and aesthetics.

Rather than immerse in one consistent creative decision and feel — the cyberpunk air, which it implied heavily of — the film chickens out of the deal, opting to divide its attention. The synthwave and the neons are awkwardly played down and the unique tonality loses its footing.

This decision thwarts Kate’s potential as a distinct story, leaving it neither here nor there. Since it’s not cyberpunk — or even John Wick — then what, pray, is it?

If you squint and tilt your head, you might assume Kate to be Kill Bill meets La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional — but only if you squint harder than Clint Eastwood.

In keeping with the rudiments of the revenge-thriller genre, we see a lot of killings; some of it smartly choreographed, most of it boring. Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, the director, isn’t Quentin Tarantino or Luc Besson who made Nikita and Leon. Since the name came up, Besson understands Kate’s genre better than both Aleem and Nicolas-Troyan.

Nicolas-Troyan, an ex-VFX guy, last made Huntsman: Winter War, the sequel of Snow White and the Huntsman for which he had an Oscar nomination. It was a limp sequel that expanded a middling franchise — a fate you don’t wish for this particular film.

Since Kate dies (it’s not a spoiler; this is the main idea of the film), fingers crossed, Kate will likely not lead to a sequel. However, in this day and age when second-rate films top charts, one can never be too sure.

Streaming now on Netflix, Kate is rated 18+ for bloody, boring action

Published in Dawn, ICON, September 19th, 2021

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