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The Assignment (2017) Review

A few good performances and a curious twist can't save this thriller.

The Assignment is a 2017 crime thriller about an assassin who wakes up to find he has undergone reassignment surgery and goes on the hunt for the doctor responsible.

There was a time a few decades ago when the action thriller genre was undergoing a kind of transformation, though to be sure, movies are always evolving, but at that time, a few titles hit the big screen that genuinely had impact for their style and innovation. Names like The Warriors, Streets of Fire, and 48 Hrs. conjure images of great style, combinations of drama and comedy, and above all, direction. Director Walter Hill blazed new trails in those days and will be recognized for his great influence. Now forty years on, his latest, The Assignment is a long way from those early days, not any less compelling, but not quite so innovative, even with its controversial hook.

The story centers on Frank Kitchen (played by Michelle Rodriguez), wearing full body male prosthetics and a beard. He’s a hitman with no heart, a ruthless killer who’s made an enemy of Dr. Rachel Kay (Sigourney Weaver), a true genius mad doctor who puts him under the knife after having him kidnapped. She’s angered by something particularly unsettling that Kitchen has done and taking matters into her own hands, literally, she turns him into a her. Naturally, this doesn’t please Frank so much, and so he, or rather she, decides to exact some revenge. 

All of this occurs in a kind of flashback as we meet Kay in a straight-jacket held in a psychiatric ward under the care of Dr. Ralph Galen (Tony Shalhoub), who is investigating what happened in a shoot-out at her clinic. She claims it was Kitchen, a madman with no conscience, that Galen is convinced doesn’t exist. As the two sides of the story play out, with Galen squaring off against Kay in the hospital and Kitchen leaving a trail of bloodied corpses, a collision is only a matter of time.

The Assignment
The Assignment, 2017 © SBS Films

Hill may not have the budgets he had in his heyday, but he’s not devoid for star power. The Assignment is littered with flaws and a surprising lack of momentum, but does have a couple of good lead performances, with both Rodriquez and Weaver pulling out all the stops, even if they can’t save the film as a whole. While Rodriquez is right in her wheelhouse, she does make a fun turn as a man, even if it is brief, and given what she does throughout, it’s a pretty fearless portrayal. However it’s Weaver who straight up steals the show, painting herself the villain and embracing it with some entertaining panache. With her slick-backed hair and cool confidence, she earns some praise for elevating this well above where it might have festered.

The issue is mostly everything else, from the cheaply-made and obvious rip-off animated cards that break up sections to the dreadful narration that sees Kitchen talking into a video recorder, the biggest problem is there’s simply no energy in the steady run of violence as Kitchen runs down henchmen and offs them one by one in bland one-two punch shoot ’em ups that are as cliché as the story itself. And despite the two leads, Hill doesn’t really give them a broad stage on which to really let loose, especially concerning Rodriquez who is a hugely dynamic presence, basically walking from one murder scene to the next.

Add to this a tacked-on love story with the always impressive Caitlin Gerard and an oddly unfitting sci-fi electronic score, and there’s not much here to make this much more than a curiosity for fans of Rodriquez and Weaver. A passable rental at best, The Assignment is a noble experiment that just can’t quite live up to its potential.

The Assignment (2017) Review

Movie description: The Assignment is a 2017 crime thriller about an assassin who wakes up to find he has undergone reassignment surgery and goes on the hunt for the doctor responsible.

Director(s): Walter Hill

Actor(s): Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Tony Shalhoub

Genre: Thriller

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3 Comments

  1. Mark Jackson March 9, 2017
    • David Duprey March 9, 2017
  2. Melanie Anstett March 9, 2017