The Assignment (Movie Review)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: When a hitman named Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez) suddenly awakes to find someone has forcibly reassigned his gender, he exacts cold-blooded retribution upon Dr. Rachel Kay (Sigourney Weaver), the person responsible.

REVIEW: To those gallant enough to find wisdom in the words of Quentin Tarantino when publicly positing that, as a general rule, filmmakers don’t get better with age, they in fact get worse, then your belief is bound to be vindicated when taking on THE ASSIGNMENT – Walter Hill’s ironically neutered, minorly middling mess of an androgynous action piece. Indeed, now aged 75 years, there’s a sadly effete quality to this low-budget indie actioner that in no way resembles the halcyon Hill triumphs of THE WARRIORS, THE DRIVER, 48 HOURS, STREETS OF FIRE and others. Originally titled TOMBOY in the 70s, Hill rewrote the script with Denis Hamill back in the 90s before burying it in a drawer and pursuing other projects. Now, with the salient zeitgeist keenly perked up, Hill can’t quite muster the courage of his convictions as it relates to the exploration of trans-empowerment. Not sure he needed to, but in that way and almost every imaginable other, THE ASSIGNMENT never takes the material far enough!

Frank Kitchen (Rodriguez) – a sexy, bearded, horse-cocked Latino – is an icy killer for hire in the San Francisco bay area. When we first meet the man, his tough bad-boy demeanor catches the romantic fancy of a nurse and local bar patron named Johnnie (Caitlin Gerard). Little time is wasted before the two strip down and share a roll in the sheets. Soon after we learn that, upon double crossing a mobster named Honest John Hartunian (Anthony Lapaglia), the mafia man turns to the sadistic Doctor Rachel Kay (Weaver), who owes him a favor, as a means of making Kitchen pay. See, Kay is a rogue doctor earning a living by performing cut-rate surgery, primarily specializing in gender reassignment surgery. Once the mobsters get a hold of Kitchen and put her under the doctor’s so called care, our leasing man wakes up to find his body now equipped with breasts and a vagina. The beard and impressive phallus? Shaved off! Now strapped with only a pair of twin .45s – both barrels silenced – Kitchen goes on an indiscriminate killing spree among all those associated with those who betrayed her.

That’s one half of the movie. The other features, as punishment for her wicked malpractice, Dr. Kay being held in a psychiatric ward, where’s she’s to be evaluated by Dr. Ralph Galen (Tony Shalhoub). Despite being bogged down by far too much dialogue for an action movie, the scenes between these two acting heavyweights are at times a true delight. Granted, the material overall seems far beneath the talents of both, but the interplay between Kay’s eccentric bombast – quoting Shakespeare and Poe at every turn, deeming herself not just a plastic surgeon but a misunderstood artist – and Galen’s un-amused deadpan facial reactions to these outbursts, is bound to elicit a chuckle or two. Weaver is a particularly interesting casting choice, as she herself is no stranger to playing tough, androgynous heroines, namely as Ripley in the ALIEN franchise (which Hill produced, even penning part 3). Here she’s playing a role we’ve not quite seen her in, confidently self-deluded in her obduracy, yet, despite a weak confrontation in the end, still provides a mildly adequate foil for Rodriguez (both of whom costarred in ALIENS helmer James Cameron’s AVATAR).

As for the action itself, it’s woefully uninspired for any movie, but even more so when considering Hill’s punched-up pedigree. Not only is there far more talking than action in the movie, the action is of the repetitive, shoot-em-up variety where scores of baddies are shot in the head. There isn’t a single standout set-piece, and worse, for a perennial ass-kicker like M. Rod, the gal isn’t afforded a single worthy hand-to-hand round of combat. The action is so painfully average here, even for a $5 million indie, that not a soul on Earth would look at it and guess that Walter Hill was at the helm. Looking back, GIRL FIGHT was far better suited to tailor the strengths of what Rodriguez brings physically. As it is in THE ASSIGNMENT, despite looking like a dead ringer for pugilist Victor Ortiz when under the beard, Rodriguez isn’t given an opponent worthy of her weight class. To be fair, Weaver could have been just that, had their final showdown provided more fired-up fisticuffs.


In a way, Hill treats the entire movie with the same castrated impotency as his main character suffers. Seriously, where are the balls? This movie has neither the testicular fortitude to make any real, cogent, thoughtfully articulated attempt to explore transsexual issues, nor does it pack the kind of macho wallop you’d expect from a hard action movie. Without these things, the overall potency of the movie just as neutered as Frank is. To try to atone for this, Hill has Weaver recite a quote from Poe, which more or less argues that art in itself is the expression, that no further subtext need be drawn from it in order for its point to be made. Calling on said quote after the movie finished, I can only construe this as a veiled excuse not to address the very societal issues so pressing right now in terms of trans-identity, empowerment, acceptance, etc. I mean, look no further than the name change from TOMBOY to THE ASSIGNMENT (not REASSIGNMENT) as a means of skirting the sexual politics of the movie in favor of a hitman’s handywork. Not that I’m personally offended one way or the other, on the contrary, I actually liked the political incorrectness much of the movie boasts (along with the SF setting). But like the action, none of it is ever taken far enough to make a lasting impact. Skip THE ASSIGNMENT, you won’t get in trouble!




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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.