Formerly titled Tomboy and then (Re)Assignment before settling on this bland, nonsensical nomenclature, The Assignment is about as woefully out of touch as a film can possibly be. Writer and director Walter Hill—once renowned for directing The Warriors and writing the story of Aliens—is now pushing seventy-five with a severely skewed perception of gender and the evolving role transgender identity has in popular discourse. This little project, which apparently pulled him out of a five year hiatus, is a blatant reaction to the rising trend of transgender visibility, but it has such a limited and unambitious view of gender politics that it can’t help but feel dated and regressive. It also doesn’t help that the film is just a shockingly badly made film regardless, but all in due time…
Michelle Rodriguez plays Frank Kitchen, an assassin who wakes up one day to discover that he has been the victim of an illegal gender reassignment surgery. This is all the revenge of one Dr. Kay (Sigourney Weaver, slumming it), whose brother was the target of one of Frank’s previous contracts. Now, dealing with the fact of his newly transformed body, Frank seeks to hunt down Dr. Kay and have his revenge.
To address the elephant in the room, Frank is in no way meant to represent a transgender character, but the film’s treatment of transgender identity could not be any more tone deaf. This is material rife with potential for its protagonist to explore their identity, struggle with dysphoria, and ultimately reaffirm who they are regardless of their physical appearance. You know, a character arc. Instead, Frank is always just Frank, a shallow representation of a “macho man” that Rodriguez is just not a compelling enough actress to pull off. She’s just fine doing her thing post-op when she has more freedom to let her natural femininity shine through, but particularly in the pre-op scenes, she relies so heavily on unconvincing spirit gum facial hair and plastic chest-concealing prosthetics that it’s unintentionally ridiculous. Yet even the women characters come across as purposely masculine (even if not successfully), which says less about the characters’ identities than it does about the writers’ perceived notion of gender “neutrality.”
Which brings me to the painfully low level of production competence on display. The writing is simply horrendous, serving as a mixture of unimpressive posturing and overgrand speechifying that takes itself much more seriously than the subject matter calls for. Who knows why Sigourney Weaver opted to stoop so low to a project like this, but while her character shoots for the cool egotism of Hannibal Lecter, she instead comes across with all the sophistication of a GamerGate troll. But the bad writing doesn’t just extend to the dialogue; the film uses two framing devices in order to show us more of Frank and Dr. Kay monologuing, but on top of that confusing set-up the film also manages to spoil the ending by detailing the result of the climax within the first act. It’s incredibly sloppy and can’t even be considered retroactively tolerable because the action beats are just that lackluster.
All of this would at least be a bit more watchable if the film didn’t take itself so damn seriously. The Assignment is built upon a stupid, ludicrous conceit that can really only work in an over-the-top, exploitative context. But what Walter Hill and his co-writer Denis Hamill have conceived is a faux comic book actioner in the vein of Sin City, yet it doesn’t actually base itself off any pulpy material nor treat its own premise with the pulp sensibilities it needs to. It’s a stupid movie, incompetently constructed and completely oblivious to the poor taste in which it presents the issues of gender fluidity and expression. This film is trash. Don’t watch it.