May 31, 2017


Starring Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Anthony LaPaglia, Yvette Nicole Brown. Directed by Walter Hill. (2016, 95 min).

Over his lengthy career, Walter Hill has directed some undisputed classics (The Warriors, 48HRS) and underrated gems (The Driver, The Long Riders). So while Hill certainly knows how to put together a character-driven action film, his last truly good one, Trespass, was 25 years ago. Still, as I do with William Friedkin and John Carpenter (two other legends whose glory days appear long gone), I still cling to the hope that Hill has one last great picture left in him.

But after watching The Assignment, I'm thinking maybe I should give up.

Too bad, really. The concept is just crazy and lurid enough to be a disreputable good time. Michelle Rodriguez is vicious assassin Frank Kitchen, who kills the brother of Rachel Jane (Sigourney Weaver), a brilliant but arrogant & terminally-weird surgeon. With the help of a mob boss and his crew, Jane exacts a bit of revenge - all in the name of science - by giving Frank a radical sex change operation, thinking it will alter his aggressive tendencies. That's right, folks...the 'assignment' of the title refers to reassignment. She's still the same old Frank, though. Upon learning the operation can't be reversed, she decides to hunt down and kill everyone responsible.

"Yeah...I'm in a band."
Rodriguez certainly deserves an action vehicle of her own, but The Assignment is ridiculous, predictable and ultimately boring. Even if the viewer is able to swallow the notion that Frank can bounce back from a complete gender reassignment in a few days - without a single surgical scar - to go on her killing spree, the ensuing action scenes are pedestrian and unimaginative. Frank simply locates (with remarkable ease) and shoots most of the supporting cast one-by-one until she confronts Jane.

While Rodriguez tries, she's unconvincing in the role, mostly sounding like she's voicing a secondary Simpsons character. Despite some elaborate make-up and prosthetics - including a gratuitous, chuckle-worthy shot of Rodriguez prancing around naked with a hairy chest and dangling dong - we simply don't buy her as a man. As Jane, Weaver's mostly forced to spout inane, pseudo-intellectual monologues to establish her as a twisted genius, a trope which became cliche shortly after we met Hannibal Lector.

I wish I could say such a low-wattage piece of sleaze is beneath a once-great  filmmaker like Walter Hill. However, The Assignment (which he co-wrote) is apparently something he's wanted to make for a long time, so he bares much of the blame. What happened? He used to be so good at combining crackling action with interesting characters, but even his last debacle, Bullet to the Head, was more trashy fun than this. I don't know...maybe the man's best years are truly behind him.

FEATURETTE: "Filmmaking Portraits"

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