Kate, a movie you will never be able to read about on the internet by searching for its title alone, has a credited screenwriter. But it's been a long time since something has felt so generated by the 0s and 1s of TrendyScriptBot3000.
This strikingly rote and meaningless picture stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as an elite assassin who, we'll learn through flashbacks, underwent years of training to become an unstoppable killing machine, much like this summer's Gunpowder Milkshake, Black Widow, and, to a lesser extent, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. There's almost no exploration of the character's backstory or inner beliefs, I guess because they figure other movies already handled it. You gotta respect the frugality, I guess.
We first meet Kate (the star of Kate) on a sniper mission in Osaka. Unheard voices in her earpiece tell her to take her shot, even if her mark's young, adorably dressed little girl is standing right there. Kate does as she's told, but it leaves her upset. Maybe it's time to hang up her high-powered rifle and, I dunno, take up fly fishing. Her handler/mentor (Woody Harrelson) tries to remind her that that this is business they've chosen, but she truly seems spooked.
Some months later Kate has relocated to Tokyo. She picks up some dude in a bar for a night of passion but is called away for another hit job. It's someone she recognizes as part of the crew she ambushed in Osaka. But before she can complete the deed, she's feeling ill. One poorly green-screened car chase later, she ends up in the hospital and learns she's been given a fatal dose of Polonium. She distills her anger and focuses it on one task: She will find out who is responsible and take revenge. If this sounds familiar, it was also the premise of the 1950 Edmond O'Brien picture D.O.A. and the Dennis Quaid remake from 1988, also called D.O.A.
After gathering some stimulants, she's on her mission. First to the dude who spiked her drink, then a raid on a geisha house where she kills about 15 guys in swift, brutal fashion. Gunshots directly to the face, quick slices of carotid arteries — all of it pretty gross, if you aren't into this sort of thing.
To get big baddie out of hiding Kate needs some bait, and, wouldn't you know it, it's the victimized girl from the earlier scene, the Yakuza leader's niece. Kate kidnaps the kid and plunges into the seamy alleys of Tokyo. (Other than a quick street montage at the beginning of this movie, everything else is clearly a soundstage.) It's hard to know what age the kid, Ani, is supposed to be. Actress Miku Martineau is nearly 17 now, but I think she's playing 13? The film clearly wants her to be a spunky Tatum O'Neal type from Paper Moon — precocious and eager to please her new criminal guardian. But she doesn't come off as cute; she comes off as obnoxious.
And so does the whole enterprise. Gunpowder Milkshake, hardly a masterpiece, at least leaned into the depravity with some "we know that slaughtering 100 people with automatic weapons is not wholesome behavior" jokes. Kate doesn't even bother. It's just shoot, stab, burn, strangle, and it's really, really boring. I counted only three times when the camera did something at least a tiny bit original (spinning around to match a flailing body, or shooting down a Z-axis), but that really isn't enough.
I'm someone who never figures out the twist in a movie early, so I spent the bulk of this picture thinking, "Oh, the guy who I think is the bad guy can't really be the bad guy, because that would be too obvious!" But no, not too obvious for this painfully by-the-numbers project. The one good thing about Kate is that its ending, right there from the beginning, makes it clear there won't be a sequel. But if enough people play two minutes of it (or whatever Netflix's computers determine to be a view) it may be considered a hit. I urge you not to let your autoplay loose on this one.
TV Guide rating: 1.5/5
Kate premieres Friday, Sept. 10 on Netflix.