The Assignment (2016)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/17/17
Written And Directed By: Walter Hill
Cast: Michelle Rodriguez, Tony Shalhoub, Caitlin Gerard, Sigourney Weaver

A contract killer named Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez) wakes up after a deal gone bad, only to discover that he is now a woman. Only two things are on his mind: how to become a man again, and revenge against those who stole his manhood. It's a solid and moderately entertaining low-grade action movie from genre veteran Walter Hill, featuring a remarkable gender-bent performance by Michelle Rodriguez. While she's not physically convincing as a man, her posture, attitude, movement, speech patterns, emotional makeup, and overall presence are impressively masculine. Some awkward looking digital trickery is used in the beginning to show that Frank has awful looking chest hair and a penis, but otherwise it's all Michelle. Sigourney Weaver does an adequate job as the egomaniacal mad doctor who operated on Frank, but her character has very little to do other than spout pretentious psychological dialog. It's surprising to me that she would have accepted such a role. The production values are decent, but the action scenes are bland and uninteresting. The narrative is a bit uneven, with certain scenes dragging on way too long and others going by too quickly without any satisfactory explanation.

I picked up the movie after reading the comic book, which was also written by Walter Hill. The comic book is significantly different and much better, and it strikes me as odd that Hill deviated so far from his own screenplay and source material with the film. The core themes remain intact, but Frank's story is reduced to an oversimplified revenge tale about someone who REALLY wants their penis back, while a lot more time is dedicated to Weaver exhaustively recounting her side of the story to Tony Shalhoub. Not surprisingly, the comic book has a lot more action and sex appeal, and Frank takes on his role as a woman almost immediately. Much of the book has Frank learning how to be a woman, being treated and victimized as a woman, and adjusting to female social norms. In the movie, even though Frank is a woman for the majority of it, he continues to dress like a man and refuses to accept his new gender and associated femininity. While it's not a great film, it's definitely worth seeing if you like Michelle Rodriguez. Otherwise, read the superior comic book instead.