When spending eight straight days at a film festival, you’re bound to be let down at least once. Enter Walter Hill’s transgender assassination thriller (re)ASSIGNMENT, quite possibly the most drab flick I’ve seen at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Gone are the days of Hill’s The Warriors hayday, replaced with unenthusiastic genre generics and an absolutely asinine story that does little for gender-swapping advancement. This is a tough pill to swallow, light on brutal choreography and dumbfounding in its genre exploitation. If you’re making a socially relevant comment, at least go full force – don’t just tease us with the tip and rip it away (literally).
Michelle Rodriguez stars as hitman Frank Kitchen, who eventually becomes known as the “Tomboy” once his gender is switched unwillingly. Yes, Mr. Kitchen pissed off the wrong people, and instead of getting payback through death, Kitchen is drugged and operated on without approval. In easier terms, Frank goes to sleep a man and wakes up a woman, without any recollection of the procedure. Frank is none too pleased, so he/she sets a course for revenge against the psychopath responsible, eventually tying back to Dr. Rachel Kay (Sigourney Weaver), who foolishly plays Frank for nothing but another mark.
As a champion for transgendered action, (re)ASSIGNMENT is strange. First of all, Hill and co-writer Denis Hamill turn extensive sex changes into a punishment, which is a bit of a jab to the transgendered community (including an all-too expected shot of full-frontal Michelle Rodriguez screaming in front of a mirror). Secondly, since Rodriguez plays BOTH male and female Frank Kitchen, which means she runs around with a Sharpied-on beard for half the movie. Hill is certain to show a few early scenes where digital magic transplants Rodriguez’s face on a naked male bod (look guys, she has a penis, I swear!), but Rodriguez’s crude character and grumbly Brooklyn-accent-butchery is ten times goofier than it is convincing.
As for the action, Rodriguez isn’t really allowed to kick-ass, she just shoots some bad guys during a narrated montage. All the evilest men are just stereotypical genre scumbags who either wear dapper suits, lame fedoras or leather jackets, and then get shot at point blank. It’s repetitive in nature and kind of a letdown considering both Hill and Rodriguez’s involvement. There’s no life or excitement in this body-swapping story of revenge, nor do we ever feel like Rodriguez enjoys going around and plugging the men who did her wrong (by making Frank a woman). It’s just point-and-shoot finality with a quick pace – nothing worth getting riled up over.
Sigourney Weaver looks like the only performer who gives a damn about Hill’s latest action piece, as her holier-than-thou doctor insults Tony Shalhoub with literary quotes and other brainy anecdotes. She’s the only bit of cinematic invigoration to be found, while Rodriguez meanders about as her bad-man-gone-soft archetype does everything she can to become a man again, while unconvincingly walking a road paved in blood. You’d think some more grindhouse sensibilities would find themselves in this weightless 70s/80s throwback, but synth-y soundtracks and the violence itself are all that remain of action sensibilities from a bygone era. The sleaze and spunk of Hill’s best films are nowhere to be found, dooming an otherwise ambitious storyline to bland, murky expectancies.
(re)ASSIGNMENT is an idea that sounds incredibly forward-thinking, yet takes two steps back from each and every angle. Rodriguez’s transformation is hackneyed and ham-fisted, Hill’s action lacks excitement, unnecessary comic-book panel swipes add “character” – there’s nothing noteworthy about this hunt for retribution. Nothing sticks the way it should, even Rodriguez playing a male version of herself, which might have been more appropriate for a sketch-comedy or some other rushed production. This is a story over 30 years in the making (seriously, Hill confirmed the tremendous gestation period in person), and honestly, I would have loved to see the 1980s version of this film – but today? As it is? It’s just another forgotten action waltz without the personality to differentiate itself. Even given the circumstances…
(re)ASSIGNMENT doesn't deserve to be as bland as it is, but that's the reality audiences will unfortunately live out.