Every once in a while, I hear about a film going in production, and my reaction is, “Wait, what?” That was my reaction hearing about The Assignment a few years ago, because it has a premise that just sounds incredibly tone-deaf. As convoluted and tasteless as the premise of the film is, though, The Assignment actually manages to do something worse: be completely boring while doing those things.
Frank Kitchens (Michelle Rodriguez) is a hitman who, after a particular job, finds herself as the target of her victim’s sister’s rage. That sister, Dr. Rachel Kay (Sigourney Weaver), arranges for Frank’s capture. When Frank wakes up, he discovers that Dr. Kay has given him a new face, breasts and a vagina. Dr. Kay leaves a message for Frank, urging him to start a new life away from the violence that dominated his life before this act. Rather than do that, though, Frank begins to hunt down the people responsible for giving him to Dr. Kay, hoping to find out who she is in the process.
The Assignment‘s script has apparently been kicking around since the 1970s, which is actually not all that surprising, given how thoroughly bad a premise this film has in the first place. What’s surprising is that, given director Walter Hill’s filmography, it comes off so dull. Hill has worked as an action director for decades, and he’s usually good at that. But the action here, like so much of the film, is shoddy in its production.
Hill has said that he wanted to make this a B-movie that focused on revenge. It wishes it rose to B-movie levels. This film thinks that the best way to portray Frank as a man is to show him walking around in a full frontal scene with a hairy chest and a prosthetic appendage, to shock and titillate its audience. Post-op, Frank’s body is shown again in female form, with none of the scarring you’d expect from such a radical surgery – not a bit of it. Somehow, Dr. Kay – whose medical license has been revoked – is just that good.
Let’s put it this way: when you have a film where you manage to get Sigourney Weaver in your cast, and you give her little more than a bunch of poorly-written lines that attempt to use references to Shakespeare and Poe as cues for the character’s supposed intelligence, and even someone as great as Weaver can’t pull them off – that’s when you know you’ve failed.
To be fair, I don’t know if there’s anything this film could have done to make itself better. The premise alone is enough to make The Assignment worth avoiding. But to make it boring on top of that? It really makes The Assignment one of the worst films in quite some time.