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FILM REVIEW: Revenge Tale THE ASSIGNMENT Reaches but Falls Short

FILM REVIEW: Revenge Tale THE ASSIGNMENT Reaches but Falls Short

As far as politically provocative movies go, Walter Hill’s new film The Assignment has all the goods. A low-life hitman (Michelle Rodriguez, first sporting some facial hair) is involuntarily given gender reassignment surgery, and now has to live the rest of his life as a woman. But when it comes to actual thoughtfulness, I’m afraid the campy film falls somewhat short.

The film is a low budget, soapy revenge tale that will likely become a cult classic. Contract killer Frank (Rodriguez) makes the mistake of taking out the brother of a deranged doctor, played by a deliciously wicked Sigourney Weaver, who happens to know a thing or two about genitalia. She exacts her payback by kidnapping Frank and making him a woman, and the reassigned Frank in turn engages on a pulpy rampage of vengeance against all involved in the unwanted procedure.

Hill, the producer behind the Alien movies and the brilliant mind that directed now classics such as The Warriors, certainly has an eye for the controversial. In these charged times, particularly so surrounding the topic of transgender rights and such, the premise of the film is sure to raise some eyebrows. The slightly deranged but ultimately macabre and sharp Dr. Rachel Kay (Weaver’s character), believes that freeing the hitman from his gender will simultaneously rid him of male aggressive. Throughout a series of interviews with a psychologist played by Tony Shalhoub, the clearly demented Kay reveals her theories of gender roles and stereotypes.

The problem for Hill is that he does not delve deep into the premise, as interesting or incendiary as it may sound, because he gives in to the baser instincts of focusing too much on the gory or graphic revenge sequences. The Assignment is at its B-movie best when Weaver is on screen, delighting and frightening with her smirks and smiles, with her prepared but disturbing responses—reminiscent perhaps of a certain baddy in The Silence of the Lambs.

But the film stumbles badly into C, or worse, terrain when focused on the central character, who is forced to portray somewhat silly sequences such as one involving an exploration of his/her new body. While Rodriguez gives it all she’s got and is convincing as the still aggressive and intransigent killer, she’s somewhat in over her head when it comes to carrying the burden of what is essentially a low budget noir meets camp film. It’s sort of a narrow band of artistry that Hill and Weaver obviously master, but that the greener Rodriguez does not quite seem to grasp

Straight-jackets and sliced fingers litter the scenery, and you’ll catch yourself looking away as much as you’ll be morbidly curious for more. But when you realize that the entire film is not really committed to exploring the thematic ideas that are supposed to make it alluring to begin with—specifically the role that gender plays in identity, violence, and society—you’ll feel somewhat betrayed, as if involuntarily thrust into a situation you did not sign up for: an otherwise unoriginal action flick with lots of bullets spliced in with witty dialogue.

The Assignment will hit theaters on April 7, 2017.

 

GRADE: C

About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online, has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age, and has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film ‘The Lost Weekend’ is pure coincidence

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