TIFF 2016 – (re)Assignment (2016)


When there’s nothing else to sell, an attention grabbing concept is the way forward. That’s exactly where (re)Assignment goes with its trans-community and general decency baiting set-up. It’s also a wash-out, the initial shock fading early in the running time, leaving a limp and remarkably dour revenge thriller to struggle on alone.

That premise sure does grab attention though, right from when we first catch sight of Michelle Rodriguez strutting down the corridor as hitman Frank Kitchen. She’s meant to be a man, but the stick on beard, permanent frown and prosthetic nose so bad the join is visible hardy convince. Just in case anyone doubts, Kitchen will later be seen swaggering from the shower, wanger swinging freely.

Kitchen is an assassin and rather good at it. Not that he seems to do much with his earnings, living in a fleapit room that later gets trashed by his enemies with little noticeable difference. His style is simple; walk in when not expected, shoot from close range, and leave swiftly. He doesn’t care what jobs he takes; it’s all business. The problem with his line of work is sooner or later he’ll kill the wrong person. That guy is the brother of Sigourney Weaver’s mad plastic surgeon.

Weaver is Rachel Kay, a disbarred doctor locked up in a mental institute for her obsession with experimenting on homeless people. Walter Hill and Denis Hamill’s screenplay tries to cast her as a disdainful genius, but endless literary quotations do not make an intellectual. The framing device, one of two as Kitchen partly narrates the tale via a recorded video, has Kay explaining how she ended up in the institute to Dr. Galen (Tony Shalhoub). She’s here because she captured Kitchen and forced him through gender reassignment surgery, leaving a very angry and confused assassin burning for revenge.

This fairly outrageous premise isn’t as offensive as it first sounds, mostly because no one much cares for the issues raised. It’s a flippant treatment of a sensitive issue, charging in like a bull in a china shop, and a few attempts to muse on gender and identity don’t exactly strengthen the case. At least in its half-hearted way, Kay’s grandiose statements on the proof that changing gender doesn’t change who you are at a deeper level tries to paint an inclusive picture.

(re)Assignment is much more exploitative in practicalities. Transitioning Rodriguez is an excuse to have her clutch her genitals in an anguished scream. She spends time groping herself in front of the mirror, and soon continues her sexual encounters with Caitlin Gerard’s implausible nurse. Then the killing commences.

Walter Hill has a reputation as a sharp action director. None of that is on display, Kitchen’s killing spree turning into a purely perfunctory mission. She arrives, shoots and leaves. There’s no tension and no excitement. All the fancy wipes and location stamping every time she rocks up somewhere new can’t change this. The one bright spot is the dialogue. It’s horrendous to the extent it becomes something of a delight. Surely Kay using an Edgar Allan Poe essay to justify her actions, and by extension the film as a whole, or her brusque and rude manner when speaking to anyone must have been made deliberately dumb. Either way pretty much every line is hilarious, as it Rodriguez’s terrible gruff voice.

There are pleasures to be found in (re)Assignment but they’re all guilty. Distasteful flirting with the edges of political correctness (for that read common decency) aside, it’s just bad.

Director: Walter Hill
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Caitlin Gerard
Runtime: 95mins
Country: USA, France, Canada

Film Rating: ★½☆☆☆

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