TIFF 2016 Movie Review: (Re)Assignment

Published on September 23rd, 2016 in: Action Movies, Film Festivals, LGBTQ, Movie Reviews, Movies, Reviews, Upcoming Movies |

By Sachin Hingoo

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When the best thing you can say about a film is that “it’s not quite as transphobic as people are saying”, you know that film has major issues.

To its credit, Walter Hill’s (Re)Assignment (the film was originally titled “Tomboy”) isn’t overtly transphobic, as many have charged, but that’s only because there are no actual trans persons in the film. The edgy-for-its-own-sake premise boils gender reassignment surgery to a plot point akin to John Woo’s Face/Off, and it never succeeds in saying anything meaningful about the trans experience. I would further assert that it barely even attempts to.

While I don’t think it comes from a place of hate or disdain, Hill’s film’s lack of substance while cynically using gender dysphoria as a gimmick, at best, does a tremendous disservice to those genuinely struggling with this issue (especially in a year that has been particularly deadly for transfolk)

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Frank Kitchen, played by Michelle Rodriguez (in a costume-party goatee and copious amounts of makeup to give her a penis and chest hair when she presents as male in the beginning of the film) is (we’re told) a capable and ruthless hitman. After murdering a playboy art dealer on the orders of Honest John (Anthony LaPaglia), Kitchen is thrust into the hands of the dealer’s deranged sister, The Doctor (Sigourney Weaver). As revenge for her brother’s murder and, though this makes no sense and is never developed in any way, to make some kind of grandiose statement about masculinity, the Doctor subjects the unwitting Kitchen to gender reassignment surgery, complete with hormone prescriptions. We’re told over and over that the surgery is masterful and seamless work, which is a lazy cover for the film’s use of Michelle Rodriguez, sans makeup, when she presents as female.

After a “reveal” scene that comes off as unintentionally hilarious, rather than horrifying, Kitchen swears revenge on Honest John and the Doctor, in all-too-brief kill scenes that are intercut with interminable dialogue between police psychologist Dr. Galen (Tony Shalhoub) and Weaver’s Doctor. Weaver does as good a job as possible with the juvenile script and is the best thing about this whole affair, injecting the dialogue with a tinge of humor that suggests that even she finds the clunky dialogue as hilariously bad as we do. Shalhoub is game enough to play against Weaver for most of the film, though his material is even thinner than hers. Ultimately, though, neither of these capable actors can save (re)Assignment from its determined swan dive into schlock territory.

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On paper, there are places you can go with (Re)Assignment’s concept. You can talk about how gender dysphoria makes people feel like they’re living in a body that isn’t theirs. You can go over-the-top with it, like in Face/Off, and actually develop the stories and characters you’re trying to put onscreen while wholly committing to your absurd premise (what a wacky concept). Hill, a director I greatly admire for his work on The Warriors and in writing the script for friggin’ Aliens, chooses disappointingly to do none of these things in (Re)Assignment.

Instead, a loosely-connected parade of nonsensical monologues, frustratingly-brief action sequences, and overwrought, hammy-as-fuck performances reduce what could have been a vehicle for Michelle Rodriguez as a bona fide action star, to a film that, while not offensive per se, is simply unnecessary.

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