Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 30, 2017)
Probably best-known for her supporting part in the Fast and Furious series, Michelle Rodriguez gets a lead role in 2017’s The Assignment. Frank Kitchen (Rodriguez) kills people for a living, and he murders Sebastian Jane (Adrian Hough) as part of a job.
Sebastian’s sister Dr. Rachel Jane (Sigourney Weaver) doesn’t take too kindly to this, so she uses her surgical skills to turn Frank into a woman. Not happy to be a female, Frank launches into a mission of revenge.
As I alluded when I reviewed 1984’s Streets of Fire, Walter Hill’s career peaked with 1982’s 48 Hours. Streets flopped and other than the 1990 sequel to Hours, Hill never made another hit film.
Now in his 70s, Hill doesn’t work much anymore, and Assignment becomes only his second theatrical film over the last 15 years. 2012’s Bullet to the Head completely bombed, and Assignment didn’t even make it to the big screens, as it went straight to video.
I can’t refer to this as some form of tragedy, for Assignment fails to offer a movie that delivers any form of competence. While I never thought of Hill as a great filmmaker, I thought he could do better than this mess.
At its core, Assignment feels like a movie loosely built around the sex change gimmick. That’s not the worst idea in the world, but it does start the movie at a disadvantage, as it forces the viewer to confront a more radical suspension of disbelief than usual.
In truth, the story seems no more ridiculous than what we got in Face/Off. One could argue Assignment comes with better grounding in the real world since sex change surgery does exist, whereas the technology to casually swap faces remains fictional.
However, Face/Off’s John Woo sold the material in such a spectacular way that I could easily ignore the sci-fi silliness of the premise. The same fails to occur with Assignment, as I never buy into the ease with which Frank becomes female.
This happens though Rodriguez never resembles a believable male. Assignment goes to extremes to sell her as a man, techniques that include full-frontal nudity of “man Frank”.
The filmmakers pack Rodriguez into a “male bodysuit” that just feels weird and utterly unconvincing. Add to that a beard that always seems about to fall off of Rodriguez’s face and she fails to ever look like an actual male.
Frank’s “transformation” becomes no more credible, mainly because the female character is too female. If a man underwent a sex change, the newly-created woman wouldn’t come through so unscathed.
Frank suddenly loses all masculine muscle tone, and he also manages to grow natural breasts – we’re told they’re implants, but they’re clearly the real thing. Frank lacks any scars or signs of maleness whatsoever after a brief recovery time.
It’s daring for the movie to offer so much nudity, as in addition to the full-frontal from “male Frank”, we see the female version in the same exposed state. However, the choice hurts more than it helps. Between the unconvincing bodysuit and the fact that naked Rodriguez lacks any signs of masculinity, the nudity turns into an unnecessary distraction.
Truthfully, Assignment probably would’ve pulled off the sex change material easier if it used a man to play a woman. I get why it went the other way – the movie spends a lot more time with “female Frank” so it’s logical to focus on an actual woman – but it just doesn’t work. Men tend to be able to play women more believably than the other way around, so the use of a male actor as Frank might’ve been more successful.
That said, Hill’s creation flops in so many ways that no casting choices could save it. Assignment comes with a lackluster, thin narrative that delivers much of its plot via clumsy exposition.
In particular, we spend endless minutes with interaction between Rachel and Dr. Ralph Galen (Tony Shalhoub), a psychiatrist who examines her. These scenes clearly exist solely to deliver backstory and other elements that a better movie would present in a more integrated fashion.
Assignment boasts a good cast, but none of them manage to do anything with the flat material. In a weird way, the quality of the actors exacerbates the film’s problems, as it becomes depressing to see greats like Weaver and Shalhoub wasted this way.
I thought The Assignment came with the potential to provide a fun action experience, but the film flops in virtually all possible ways. Awkward, silly and unconvincing, this turns into a dull 95 minutes.