Someone must be watching Netflix’s parade of mindless thrillers like “Kate” (never mind why), but even allowing for that, it’s hard to imagine a more bare-boned plot as excuses for stylized violence go. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the movie’s eponymous female assassin, in a mash-up loaded with old-movie ammunition that still comes away firing blanks.
Aside from Winstead’s recent role as Huntress in the “Harley Quinn” movie, the most obvious point of reference would be “D.O.A.,” the 1950 film noir starring Edmond O’Brien (subsequently remade with Dennis Quaid) in which a fatally poisoned man spends his remaining hours trying to unravel the mystery of who killed him. In similar fashion, Kate — a Tokyo-based killer for hire — ingests a slow-acting poison, giving her a day to track down who was responsible, slashing and shooting her way through much of Japan. She delivers the bad news to the boss who raised her, played by Woody Harrelson, who can play this sort of appealing hitman in his sleep.
Kate’s search for those behind her demise brings her into contact with a teenage girl (newcomer Miku Martineau) who is the granddaughter of a mob boss, and as written proves annoying even by the standards of teenagers in these kind of movies. There’s a pinch of “The Professional” and more recently Netflix’s considerably better “Gunpowder Milkshake” in their killer-kid bonding, which doesn’t have much time to develop with so much damage to be done before Kate’s condition becomes unmanageable. Under the stewardship of French director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”), a movie like this ultimately boils down to the quality of the action, and it’s both plentiful and particularly bloody. Kate absorbs an enormous amount of punishment and dishes out far more, using guns, knives, fists and when pressed common kitchen appliances.
Still, there’s not much mystery in the “why” of it all, and nary a beat that doesn’t feel almost wholly predictable. The movie thus becomes one long bout of violence for its own sake, with the inevitability of Kate’s fate only further detracting from any suspense about where the story is heading.