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  WINDY CITY TIMES

FILM REVIEW The Assignment
by Steve Warren
2017-04-05

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Director: Walter Hill. Starring: Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub and Caitlin Gerard. Running time: 95 min. Release date: April 7 at the AMC Woodridge

Michelle Rodriguez is no stranger to controversy. When she came out as bisexual in 2013, the only people who were surprised were those of us who had assumed she was totally lesbian.

It's Christmas in April for fans of Rodriguez, who has three films opening within two weeks. She's part of the voice cast of Smurfs: The Lost Village and reprises the role of Letty in The Fate of the Furious. However, the role that's stirred the most talk ( and least distribution ) is the lead in The Assignment, which was released in the UK as Tomboy and is also known as Tomboy: A Revengers Tale and, on the print I reviewed, ( Re )Assignment, which is the most appropriate title of all.

The controversy started before The Assignment began filming, when word got out ( doubtless through a wily publicist ) that the plot concerns a hitman ( Rodriguez ) who unknowingly underwent gender-reassignment surgery at the hands of an evil doctor ( Sigourney Weaver ) who sought revenge because the hitman killed her brother.

I've got a problem with people who talk about boycotting a movie they haven't seen because they don't like the concept ( the "gay scene" in Beauty and the Beast, anyone? ). They usually just rouse interest and help the box office.

I believe Rodriguez when she says, "I'd never do a movie with the intention of offending anybody in the LGBT community because I'm a part of it."

But offense, like harm, is not always intentional. Dr. Rachel Kay ( Weaver ) took an oath to "First do no harm..." before losing her license over unauthorized experimentation, performing gender reassignment surgery on homeless people supplied to her by gangsters.

Dr. Kay thinks her work, which "harmed no one of any value," was for the greater good. Even when she operated on Frank Kitchen ( Rodriguez ) out of revenge, she thought she was, in a noble spirit of forgiveness, giving Frank a chance to make a fresh start. We see in detail that Frank comes out of the operation fully transitioned, with no scars on her female body.

We see that, and several routine shootouts, but most of the information in The Assignment is told rather than shown. The exposition-heavy screenplay is especially disappointing because it comes from director Walter Hill, who made some good action movies in the '80s but has done little of note since. He's turned part of his attention to writing graphic novels, a trilogy of which were the source for this violent novelty.

It begins with Dr. Kay being held in a mental hospital until she's judged fit for trial. In a textbook example of bad writing, she receives a psych evaluation from a doctor ( Tony Shalhoub ) who tells her everything she already knows but the audience doesn't. Later, Frank, who never changes her name, presents her side in a lengthy video soliloquy.

Although Frank feels like a new woman, she settles for the same female sex partner she had as a man—a nurse named Johnnie ( Caitlin Gerard ).

Weaver, favoring mannish business suits when she isn't straitjacketed, is not at her best. Rodriguez does some good work, but a beard and a man's body can't overcome her feminine voice in the pre-surgical scenes. However, The Assignment includes neutral information about gender reassignment.

But mostly it's, as Rodriguez says, "...in the B-movie genre, a culture shock pic, shot like a film noir graphic novel." It's not trying to be high art, just diverting trash. Still, it could have been much better—with some changes.


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