Michelle Rodriguez — yes, Michelle Rodriguez — is a cold-hearted hitman in ‘The Assignment’
Frank is a hard-case hitman for the mob who gets kidnapped and drugged — and wakes up to discover that, thanks to a mad doctor, some implants and a scalpel, he’s now Frances.
That he doesn’t immediately shout “Where’s the rest of me?” can only mean he’s never seen “King’s Row.”
It’s one of the few movies this one doesn’t quote, though. Gory and grotesque, it plays like Pedro Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In,” but rewritten by someone who really, really loved “Sin City.”
That is not an endorsement.
Michelle Rodriguez plays Frank, wearing fake whiskers and chest hair for her “before” scenes, and a painful looking duct-tape bra afterward. Sigourney Weaver is the crazy surgeon, fond of men’s suits and quoting Shakespeare and Poe.
Weaver is probably here out of loyalty to director Walter Hill, who co-produced “Alien” all those years ago. Rodriguez – who, amazingly, has not had a lead since her 2000 debut in “Girlfight” – presumably liked the idea of a role that required more than just gazing at Vin Diesel.
But although she’s the star, Rodriguez doesn’t get all that much to do, outside of fondling her guns, or her new lady parts. And Weaver does too much, delivering marathon monologues of exposition, crowded with literary quotes and blather about gender-as-destiny.
Her character has delusions of seriousness, which frankly, has long been the case with Hill and his fans, who find macho parables in pictures like “The Warriors,” and “Southern Comfort.” But it’s been a long time since most audiences agreed; the director’s last hit, “48 Hrs,” was 35 years ago, and for the last 20 years he’s mostly worked as a producer.
That skillset serves him well on “The Assignment,” a cheap, quickly-shot movie that doesn’t look it. Other interests Hill’s picked up along the way add extra touches too, like a graphic-novels style that uses comic-book panels to bridge the film’s transitions.
But that’s not enough to elevate a movie that’s basically pasted together out of two dull ones – a revenge fantasy with Rodriguez tracking down everyone who sold her out, and a cat-and-mouse drama with Weaver confessing all to inquisitor Tony Shalhoub. Nor is it enough to excuse a pulpy picture that uses transgender issues for a cheap plot gimmick.
That last exploitation has brought protests almost from the moment the film was announced, both from those who thought it shouldn’t be made at all to those who wanted a real transgender performer cast in the lead. It led to calls for a boycott and left Hill a little weary, even as the film limped into its premiere at last September’s Toronto Film Festival.
“I understand the concern,” he confessed to Rolling Stone.com at the time. “Is it lurid? Yes. Is it lowbrow? Well, maybe. Is it offensive? No.” He skirted the real question, though: Is it worth seeing?
To which the answer is a total, and decisive, not on your life.
Ratings note: The film contains violence, nudity, sexual situations and strong language.