In Walter Hill’s bizarre gender-bending B-movie “(re)Assignment,” Michelle Rodriguez plays a gun-toting hitman transformed into woman against his/her will by a revenge-seeking Sigourney Weaver. Why would you not want to see this?
Here are a few reasons.
Hill may have directed some of the more endearing action showdowns over the last 30 years, from “The Warriors” to “48 Hrs.,” but “re(Assignment)” is an amateur work. Cheesy without being self-aware, hobbled by rampant transphobia that the screenplay’s too dumb to address, this inane burst of campy stupidity can’t get beyond the sheer absurdity of its very existence.
However, the outrageous scenario isn’t the film’s biggest problem. As Dr. Rachel Kay, Weaver is a dime-store Hannibal Lecter who spends most of the movie in a straightjacket, mechanically recalling her scheme to a stone-faced psychologist (Tony Shaloub, who seems to be restraining his laughter at every turn). Kay recounts her desire to seek justice against the man who murdered her brother, at which point we’re introduced to the mulleted Frank Kitchen, aka Rodriguez wearing a beard.
Rodriguez brings her usual swagger to the role, and she owns even the movie’s godawful dialogue with the intensity of her stare, but her scenes don’t fare much better. As if the beard weren’t ridiculous enough, Hill overemphasizes the unintentional drag show by showing Frank stepping out of the shower in a seedy hotel room, while the camera lingers on a nude body that includes the obligatory dick shot. (Prosthetic? Cheap CGI? It’s the only question this movie asks with some modicum of intrigue.)
The inanity continues: Frank brings a nubile blonde back to his room and promptly has sex with her, as a macho techno score crescendos. And then, just as quickly, a group of thugs show up to drug him. When he wakes, he’s… Michelle Rodriguez. Grabbing her breasts and crotch in mock surprise and howling to the wind, Rodriguez does her best to convey the shock of a hilariously abrupt transition that makes the surgical procedure in “Face/Off” look like accurate science.
“I’ve freed you from this masculine prison you were living in,” Weaver’s character tells Frank, but (s)he’s not having it. The body count rises as Frank battles her way to the mad scientist’s lair for a final showdown. Along the way, Frank goes to a doctor and fights for information about reversing the operation, then changing the subject to orgasms. For a moment, “re(Assignment)” gets real.
One could argue — as some already have — that Hill has total control of this pulpy material. If so, it doesn’t extend beyond the underlying shock value, which capitalizes on a questionable form of retrograde sensationalism anyway. A shrewder filmmaker would dig into the peculiar body horror aspect of Frank’s situation and try to find its subversive edge. Where’s David Cronenberg when you need him?
Additionally marred by cheap transitions and comic book drawings that set each scene like outtakes from “Sin City,” Hill’s filmmaking falls short of finding a consistent tone. When Frank goes into the doctor’s lair with guns blazing, there are no clever maneuvers or innovative one-liners, just a whole lot of bullets and bodies. Despite the subversive premise, the craziest thing about “(re)Assignment” is its familiarity.
“‘re(Assignment)” premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.