(re)Assignment Is An Ugly Film
The long wait between films wasn’t long enough for Walter Hill.
Walter Hill is a cult movie legend. When it was announced that the man who brought us The Warriors and 48 Hrs. would be returning to the director’s chair, film buffs around the globe collectively stood up and took notice like a geeky tribe of meerkats. Hill’s latest film, the pitch black crime thriller, (re)Assignment, features the talents of Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, and Tony Shalhoub. Fans of Hill’s seminal work need to pump the breaks before getting too excited. Even though (re)Assignment has all the right ingredients for an awesome genre movie, quality-wise, it’s a huge drop-off from his earlier work.
(re)Assignment is told through flashbacks recounted by Dr. Rachel Kay (Sigourney Weaver), an incarcerated cosmetic surgeon who is locked away for homicide. As her psychiatrist (Tony Shalhoub) prods her for the details surrounding the murders, we are treated to stylized flashbacks featuring master hitman, Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez). After Frank executes Dr. Kay’s brother, Kay settles the score by capturing Frank and performing gender-reassignment surgery on him. Seeking revenge, Frank unleashes a reign of terror on the criminal underworld, knocking off anyone standing between him and Dr. Kay.
(re)Assignment is one hell of an ugly film and I’m not just talking about its grimy aesthetic. (re)Assignment’s world is filled with femme fatales and crooked gangsters; it’s a place where you’re always just a heartbeat away from a double cross. It was a mistake to cast Rodriguez as the protagonist in such a joyless film. While Rodriguez has the grizzled tough guy image down pat, she lacks the charisma to offset the film’s bleak world. That doesn’t mean Rodriguez has to smile or crack jokes, she just has to win us over. Frank isn’t any better than the crooks he pumps full of lead and Rodriguez never imbues him with enough humanity to make us care about his plight.
The film’s sole highlight is Sigourney Weaver. Weaver plays Dr. Kay as a cross between Hannibal Lecter, Dr. Moreau, and Mr. Freeze. Weaver makes you sit up and take notice every time she shows up onscreen. She slips into Dr. Kay’s skin and breathes the character to life with an eerie level of restraint. If a few other aspects of the movie rose to the level of Weaver’s performance we would be looking at a modern classic.
People who understand the archetypes Hill is playing with will see (re)Assignment for what it is; a tongue-in-cheek look at exhausted movie tropes. Hill pisses all over political correctness while screaming out “Hey, I’m only making a movie”. It’s fine if a film’s main conceit is that it’s self-aware. The problem with (re)Assignment is that it’s constantly telling you how smart it is. After long exposition dumps, a character will acknowledge how pointless it was to relay all that information. The film wants you to know how smart it is, and does so to the point where you sit there and say, “I get it already.” (re)Assignmet’s style of humor comes off like dad-jokes; they’re so bad they’re funny, but they wear our their welcome quickly. If during a conversation, a person gave you as many nods, winks, and tilt of the caps as (re)Assignment) you would swear they had suffered a head trauma.
The big controversy surrounding (re)Assignment is Frank’s gender-reassignment surgery. The film’s plot has drawn fire from the LGBTQ community for appearing to use reassignment surgery to inflict suffering. Rather than kill Frank, Dr. Kay changes him into a woman as a new lease on life. For what it’s worth, within the world of the film, Frank becoming a woman isn’t treated like a joke. Frank doesn’t become someone less than he was before, he’s just someone different. His old flame even embraces the new Frank, she’s still attracted to the person on the inside. Kay treats the surgery as a rebirth. After the surgery, Frank isn’t ashamed or grossed out, he just wants to go back to how he was. It’s a small consolation and the scenario could have played out far worse. You can see what Hill is going for here. He’s trying to explore what makes us who we are and whether we can ever really change.
(re)Assignment arrives at a time when the LGBTQ community is fighting to receive fair representation. It’s a tough blow to the LGBTQ struggle when members of their community are cast in a disproportionate amount of heightened roles (killers, weirdos, and comic relief). If (re)Assignment is going to tackle transgender issues in such a cheeky way, then the movie must perfectly execute those sensitive issues. Everyone from the writers to the producers must be on the same page. They have to clearly distinguish a line between empowering and derogatory and then stand on the proper side of it.
Regarding the transgender issue, the battle isn’t just representation, (re)Assignment achieves that; it’s also about blending in seamlessly. Television and films must begin producing run-of-the-mill roles for transgender actors/actresses. We need to see more waitresses, lawyers, and mechanics before we start seeing transgender assassins. The hurdle isn’t to be represented, it’s being represented honestly and with respect. In this sense, (re)Assignment teaches us all a valuable lesson: What not to do.
Within the context of our reboot culture, there are merits to embracing the art of pastiche. Unfortunately for (re)Assignment, simply commenting on a genre and isn’t inherently entertaining. (re)Assignment’s main issue isn’t that it’s derivative – it’s supposed to be – the issue is that it’s bland. As a viewer, you reach a certain point where you must ask yourself why you’re not watching the better movies that (re)Assignment is satirizing.