(Re)Assignment: A (Re)View By Stephanie Gertsch

Introduction

Let us begin with review with a gritty, self-filmed video diary wherein the protagonist tries to process the bizarre and tragic events that have recently taken place.

If the movie jumps back and forth between formats with no warning, then I can too.

On to the text review!

I regret paying money for this movie. If it hadn’t been for the Q&A with director Walter Hill after this movie’s screening at Cinequest, which did give me some material, I would have taken advantage of this movie’s availability online and skipped paying for a ticket. I don’t regret seeing it, since at least it was entertainingly corny and oblivious, but I feel like (Re)Assignment (or “Tomboy” or “The Assignment” according to IMDB) hasn’t brought anything good into the world and may have brought harm to an already vulnerable community.

I’ll get the plot out of the way as quickly as possible (and not muck it up with bizarre shifts forward and backward in time like the movie does). A hitman named Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez) offs the brother of a psychotic doctor. Said doctor (Sigourney Weaver) pays off his bosses and performs non-consensual surgery on Frank to make his appearance feminine. Understandably pissed off at the situation, Frank embarks on a mission of revenge to shoot up the bosses who betrayed him, the doctor, and her staff.

On the Technical Side

There are many levels of badness in this film, it’s hard to know where to start because they all play into each other.

"I wanted to cause Frank Kitchen enormous psychic pain." (Pain so bad it can see into the future?)

Most noticeably, no one in this film knows how to speak human. No line of dialog sounds like something a real person would actually say. On top of this, at least 50 percent of the dialog is exposition. Characters exposit at the most bizarre and unlikely moments—such as when Frank’s one-night-stand turned girlfriend delivers a detailed explanation of her ties to the doctor character while a gun is being pointed at her head. I don’t blame actor Caitlin Gerard because there was no way to make a person rambling on about irrelevant details not destroy all the tension in the scene.

The film takes place on two separate timelines: one with Frank enacting his bloodbath of vengeance, and the other with the doctor explaining the whole thing to a psychiatrist played by Tony Shalhoub. (Seeing Weaver and Shalhoub together is depressing by the way, because you just know they’re remembering “Galaxy Quest” and thinking “Remember how we starred together in an actually clever and good movie?”)

Image taken from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0177789/?ref_=nv_sr_1

There’s a weak subplot about no one else believing Frank exists, but we audience members know he does so that angle seems pointless. The real point of the scenes with the doctor is to deliver the bulk of the movie's exposition. Weaver seems beyond checked out. At a few points (such as when she quips, “Aren’t you glad you got that off your chest” after particularly stupid exposition dump) she actually seems to be griping about the movie itself. It’s like her old friend Walter Hill roped her into doing this project with him and she was like, “Fine. But don't expect me to act.”

Image taken from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5034474/?ref_=nv_sr_1

On the acting side, in spite of being already hampered by the clunky dialog, many actors go above and beyond to give the most camp and/or bored performance possible. Michelle Rodriquez delivers another cocktail of awkwardness with a raspy voice that sound like bad imitation of a 13-year-old boy. Her character must be 25 or 30, but never sounds like an adult male. When a character is supposed to be intimidating, "How old are you?" is not the question you want the audience to be asking.

Because apparently the filmmakers couldn’t get enough of Rodriguez rasping through her lines, the movie includes an entirely pointless video essay from the main character that takes place after the main plotline ( but whether before or after the doctor plotline is unclear). The video essays show up a good chunk into the movie and seems to come out of nowhere.

Oh, look!

Let's take a quick break to talk about Michelle Rodriguez' performance in a pants role.

Which brings me to the editing. During the Q&A, director Walter Hill said he wanted to make a “comic book movie.” Unfortunately, they made a comic book movie in the style of "Suicide Squad." Both movies employ comic book style illustrations that seem out of place and do nothing to further the story. Both contain confusing scene shifts and characters that exist only dump exposition.

Actually these movies do look really similar too. Please let this not become a thing.

Image taken from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1386697/mediaviewer/rm3841791232

For example, early on Weaver’s character starts talking about her brother. Then the scene cuts to not the brother, but a sex worker in a different location. Then there’s a cut to outside the building with text explaining the location. Only on the third cut do we finally see the brother character. It should be a no-brainer that when the scene cuts just after someone mentions a person, the next scene should show that person—unless there’s a good reason not to. The two middle cuts are entirely unnecessary in this sequence. If anything, we should see the outside of the building before we see the inside.

There are also continuity errors. Most noticeably, the number of visible gunshot wounds on a major character changes from three to one from the beginning to the end of the film.

I also want to bring up sound while I’m talking about the more technical aspects of the movie. I screened the movie at the California Theater in downtown San Jose—a gorgeous old theater with a stage and a balcony. And I think the acoustics were more planned for opera and plays than for film. Everything felt extremely loud, especially the gunshots. I mostly noticed the soundtrack at the beginning and the end, and maybe because of the theater it came in very thudding, very in-your-face. Like the rest of the movie, the soundtrack screamed “There will be action! We are serious and gritty!”

At least we got the good seats on the balcony.

However, I did enjoy seeing the movie in a theater because of the audience’s reaction.

With no more ado...

Weirdly, the audience was laughing during what should have been the big dramatic scene in the movie, where the main character wakes up from surgery. I don’t think the director was going for humor in this scene, but it’s so camp and over dramatic that as the audience you kind of have to either laugh or cringe.

I was more focused on the scientific inaccuracies of the scene, which were so egregious I put together an educational video.

After the Movie: The Q&A

After the movie wrapped up director Walter Hill came onstage to answer some questions from the moderator and the audience. The overall feeling from the moderator was, “My, that was a movie, wasn’t it?”

Most of the audience questions were about the making and distribution of the film. I got the feeling that the kind of people who came to watch the movie (and maybe to Cinequest in general) were more interested in learning how to make their own movies rather than thinking about the one they had just seen. Even the director, when asked how he came up the story, said that he simply wanted to make a noir style comic book movie, and this was the result. My friend pointed out to me later that Hill seemed mostly indifferent to the plot itself, except insofar as the story was unusual enough to pique the actors’ interest.

I did learn that Signourney is a longtime friend of Walter Hill and that her part was originally written for a man. I wouldn’t have guessed that just from seeing the movie.

According to Hill, Michelle Rodriguez actively wanted the role, saying, “You’re not going to fucking cast me. But you’ll never find a chick who can handle guns better. You won’t find any guys either.” Supposedly she also wanted a role where she wouldn’t be wearing tank tops the entire time. I think there is a draw to playing the opposite gender, because it’s not something actors usually get to do. And when it’s in such a goofy movie anyway, no one is really going to be judging Rodriguez too harshly on her performance.

She has guns so she is satisfied.

Only at the very end of the Q&A session did the context of trans issues come up at all. Hill brought up the issue tangentially, mentioning that some people were offended by the movie because they thought it misrepresented trans people, but obviously the movie “has nothing to do with that.” (Cue a collective sense of "Huhhhh? How could this possibly be offensive?" from the audience.) Hill described the movie as “A revenge movie that deals with genital alteration, which is an entirely different thing.” And he said sincerely, “I don’t set out to make anyone’s life harder.”

To me, Hill seemed like a genuinely nice person who just set out to make a popcorn flick with an unusual premise, respects the people he works with, and didn’t want to offend anyone.

But…

At this point I have to talk about what impact this movie could actually have for real people. It's time to stare into the camera and deliver some soulful narration again!

First, you don’t get to pretend your movie doesn’t have anything to do with trans people when you make a trans pun in the title. (Although IMDB lists the film as “Tomboy” or “The Assignment” so maybe some people got touchy about that.) But don’t listen to me. Listen to IMDB:

If it's on IMDB it must be true. Source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5034474/?ref_=nv_sr_1

I think films like (Re)Assignment are the ultimate example of “cis privilege.” That you can take people’s real experience of body dysphoria, jam it into this badly written, badly made popcorn flick just to up the shock value, showing no consideration for the misinformation and prejudice you might be spreading, (all without casting any actual trans people by the way) and then to turn around and say, “JK I’m not really talking about you people at all,” as if anyone will even buy that, is the ultimate way of saying that trans people are not real people to you.

What actual trans people might think of their lives being portrayed as a sadistic medical experiment isn’t just the last question people asked. It never came up at all.

In Conclusion

Last video, I promise! Maybe.

I could end this review with me ranting. But I don’t think that’s what the world needs. We need people to create something positive. So I’m going link to the work of some lovely Youtubers who have a lot more useful things to say about gender dysphoria than I do.

"One thing's for sure. Change is gonna come." --Frank Kitchen

Thanks for reading!

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.