The Assignment is a new film that feels old. Its concept — a remorseless hitman is given forced gender reassignment surgery, then goes on a vengeful killspree as a hitwoman — is bound to raise a few eyebrows in 2016. The whole notion belongs to an earlier era and its ideas about identity, and the stuff that doesn’t feel stale feels pizzapants insane, like a film noir adaptation of an EC comic so outrageous even Bill Gaines wouldn’t have published it. (Ironically, director Walter Hill recently released a graphic novel version of (Re)Assignment in France.)
The first of several framing devices introduces the audience to Dr. Jane (Sigourney Weaver), a straightjacketed criminal under interrogation from an inquisitive therapist (Tony Shalhoub). Dr. Jane, whose medical license was revoked years ago, now performs illegal, experimental surgeries in an abandoned San Francisco hotel. That’s where she was found by the cops, along with several dead bodies and a ton of evidence suggesting she was the murderer. Dr. Jane insists she’s innocent; these men, she swears, were killed by a hitman named Frank Kitchen. But the FBI has no record of a Frank Kitchen. The therapist is convinced Dr. Jane made him up. And why not? Dr. Jane is as mad as movie scientists get, and Weaver delivers her lines with the haughty relish of a woman who believes herself to be superior to everyone around her. (Sample line of wacky Weaver dialogue: “Goodnight, moon. Go f— yourself!”)
If Hill had structured (Re)Assignment to make the mystery of Frank Kitchen a who-do-we-trust mind-bender, that might have made for an interesting potboiler. But other flashbacks and videotaped testimonials immediately spoil the suspense: Kitchen is very much real, or at least he’s as real as a man played by Michelle Rodriguez in a bad wig and beard (and, in at least one scene, a prosthetic penis) can be. Rodriguez’s Frank, who looks like Oscar Isaac after a particularly rough week, pissed off Dr. Jane with one of his assassinations. The surgery is her twisted attempt at revenge — and, she claims, art. (I’m going to go out on a limb and predict Dr. Jane will not win Walter Hill any fans in the transgender community.)
The film’s concept of transgendered life could be out of a 50-year-old exploitation film; if (Re)Assignment played more like a spoof of vintage pulp and less like a tacky rehash of it, that choice could have worked. Instead, it just comes off as clueless — about gender as well as filmmaking, which shouldn’t be possible from the man who directed The Warriors, 48 Hrs., and The Driver. Some moments are so baffling — like the scene where Frank randomly adopts a dog and then says “Now I have a dog!” in his hardboiled voiceover — that (Re)Assignment could easily become a future so-bad-it’s-good midnight movie favorite.
From some angles, Rodriguez does visually pull off pre-surgery Frank. But her voice is always a dead giveaway; not pitching her down or rerecording her lines with a male actor leads to some truly laughable dialogue exchanges. That really sets the tone for what’s to follow, which includes Weaver repeatedly browbeating Shaloub for, among other things, not recognizing obscure Shakespeare quotes, sex scenes set to the most aggro rock music this side of a Disturbed concert, and a character responding to Dr. Jane’s interest in Poe with the line “Poe? You mean like Edgar Allan Poe?” (Uh, no. He meant his younger brother, Bippy Higglesbottom Poe, who was also a widely quoted author.)
Weaver clearly understands (Re)Assignment is trash and plays things accordingly; her scenes are a hoot. Rodriguez didn’t get the memo, scowling and speaking in an affected Noo Yawk gangster accent (except in the scenes where she speaks perfect fluent Spanish); she seems to think she’s in a serious action thriller. Hill has certainly made a few of those in his day, some of which are the best films of their kind of their era. No one will confuse (Re)Assignment with any of Hill’s greatest hits; even the gun battles and fight scenes lack the energy and excitement of a satisfying direct-to-video action movie. Rodriguez gives Frank Kitchen her all and then some, but the effort is spent in vain. This movie should be sent back in for its own experimental surgery.
Read More: Toronto 2016 Review: ‘(Re)Assignment’ | http://screencrush.com/reassignment-review-tiff/?trackback=tsmclip