Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Caitlin Gerard, Tony Shalhoub, Terry Chen, Anthony LaPaglia, Paul McGillion, Paul Lazenby, Lia Lam, Ken Kirzinger, Zak Santiago, Caroline Chan, Adrian Hough
Written by: Walter Hill, Denis Hamill
Directed by: Walter Hill
MPAA Rating: R for graphic nudity, violence, sexuality, language and drug use
Running Time: 95
Date: 04/07/2017

The Assignment (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Gender Bender

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

On the one hand, this thriller starts with a ludicrous, wrongheaded idea, but on the other hand, as directed by the seasoned Walter Hill, it's so skillful and pulpy that it may become a cult classic.

In The Assignment, a prickly, Shakespeare-and-Poe-quoting surgeon, Dr. Rachel Kay (Sigourney Weaver), resides in a mental hospital, and is interviewed by Dr. Ralph Galen (Tony Shalhoub). She tells her story in flashback.

Her brother, in trouble with gangsters, becomes the target of a hitman called Frank Kitchen. Dr. Kay subsequently kidnaps Frank and performs gender reassignment surgery on him. She does this partly as revenge, and partly to see what Kitchen might do with this "fresh start."

And so, Kitchen awakens as a woman (Michelle Rodriguez), and after searching for a way to reverse the procedure and failing, simply decides to get her revenge on everyone connected to Dr. Kay — everyone going all the way up to the dangerous and well-protected gangster "Honest John" (Anthony LaPaglia).

Certainly The Assignment — the title changed from (Re)Assignment — is inauthentic, and the surgery is initially viewed as a punishment, or a setback. And the timing — when real-life discrimination is the norm — isn't ideal. However, though it may be irresponsible, it's apparent that this is not a hateful movie.

Hill — who first worked with star Sigourney Weaver on Alien (1979), which he wrote and produced — is best known for directing the action classics The Warriors and 48 Hrs., as well as the recent Bullet to the Head. Hill's filmmaking here is rugged, hard, and snappy, delivering a "B" movie punch right out of days gone by; it even includes transitions designed to look like comic book panels.

A theme in most of Hill's films involves characters that find themselves in unfamiliar territory. And, indeed, the beautiful, problem-solving Michelle Rodriguez is no different; she's a tough hero that anyone can sympathize with and root for.

Lionsgate released a great-looking, great-sounding DVD/Blu-ray combo pack with a digital copy included. It comes with optional English subtitles, and only one measly extra: a 2-minute slideshow of behind-the-scenes stills called "Filmmaking Portraits." It's a shame that director Hill couldn't have contributed a commentary track or an interview.

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