We Can’t Believe This Dumb Movie Is Real: Behold, ‘The Assignment’
Imagine you're a screenwriter. An idea pops into your brain. You think about it for a little while, write multiple drafts. You show it to friends, maybe an agent. You invest years into this project, possibly neglecting personal relationships while you pour yourself into your writing. You will willingly embrace the investment of millions of dollars into this idea. Human actors will say your words out loud while skilled technicians record them. You were given multiple opportunities to pump the breaks on this idea; to decide "Hey, wait a minute, this was a garbage idea that never needed to exist as anything other than a fleeting moment of my dumb imagination."
But thanks to the raging opiate that is unchecked creative self-confidence, we still get movies like The Assignment, which stars Michelle Rodriguez as a hitman who, uh, forcibly undergoes sex reassignment surgery thanks to a vengeful doctor. Yeah, that's the actual premise. But it was made way back in the less-enlightened time of [checks notes] ... 2016. The film was originally called (Re)Assignment (get it?) but is also known by titles such as Tomboy and Ladyguy.
Despite its abject awfulness and facepalm-inducing premise, The Assignment has a stellar cast featuring legends such as Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Rachel Jane, a deranged plastic surgeon who is now institutionalized. Tony Shalhoub is Dr. Ralph Galen, who is interrogating her, Usual Suspects-style, for some reason.
Dr. Jane recounts her approximately hour and forty-five story which involves wreaking vengeance on the guy who killed her brother, a hit-man named Frank Kitchen (possibly because the screenwriter was naming all of his characters while simultaneously making a sandwich). When we meet Frank he's played by Michelle Rodriguez from The Fast and the Furious and "Oh yeah, Michelle Rodriguez was in Lost..." fame. The movie makes us painfully aware that Frank is a dude, as evidenced by the fact that Rodriguez steps out of the shower sporting a prosthetic dong.
And was, we're guessing, bitten by Jared Leto on the last full moon.
Frank gets double-crossed by some mobsters, who are actually working for Dr. Jane. After a generic montage featuring blurry images of surgical incisions (like we all experience under sedation) Frank wakes up in a cheap motel room. In a shocking twist for anyone who A) didn't recognize Michelle Rodriguez, and B) didn't rent the version titled friggin' Ladyguy, Frank has now been transformed into a woman. Why? Well, it's not totally clear. Dr. Jane claims it's due to toxic masculinity and that she has "liberated" Frank from his "macho prison." She also later claims that she wanted to give Frank a "second chance." But it's also clearly supposed to be a form of punishment in retaliation for killing her brother.
This might be a good time to address two very important things about this movie. One, this wasn't directed by a 14-year-old Tarantino fan who learned everything they know about human sexuality from South Park, it was made by the legendary Walter Hill, the guy who produced Alien and directed action classics such as 48 Hours, The Driver, and The Warriors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the idea for The Assignment was hatched, not in the 21st century, but back in 1978 by a writer named Denis Hamill. The original script, Tom Boy, sounds like one of the decade's many Death Wish rip-offs; a "juvenile delinquent" rapes and murders the wife of a plastic surgeon who later, according to Hill, "captures him and performs a genital-alteration operation ... he feminizes him and then releases him into the world." Hill bought the rights to the script but forgot all about it. Then, years later, found the script while literally "rummaging" in his cellar. Hill decided to take the core idea and rewrite it as a pulpy thriller about a badass assassin, initially for a comic book series published in France.
Eventually Hill turned it into a movie, but retained a faux-comic book sensibility for certain scenes, employing the same "just got a laptop with iMovie" aesthetic he used in the movie-ruining "Ultimate Director's Cut" of The Warriors. The second important thing to note about The Assignment is that it was immediately derided for its tone-deaf, transphobic content. Despite the fact that it has a distinct straight-to-Redbox vibe, this thing premiered at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival. Hill responded to the controversy by claiming that the movie can't be transphobic because Frank is "not transgender." Hamill echoed these sentiments adding that"The last thing we wanted to do was insult anybody. It's pure entertainment."
But there's a few big problems with that; namely that the movie turns the trans experience into a literal horror story in which gender confirmation surgery is repurposed to inflict, what the movie suggests, is a fate worse than death, performed by a crooked doctor who honed her skills by kidnapping and "mutilating" homeless people. The trans community already has to put up with unnecessarily cruel forms of systemic discrimination, presumably depicting a vital (often frustratingly unattainable) medical procedure as a Jigsaw-like torture technique isn't helping.
The fact that, as Hill stresses, there are no trans people in the movie means that it somehow "manages to accomplish trans erasure and insult trans people while issuing no direct comment about the transgender community." Hill admitted that he has a "limited understanding" of trans rights issues, so it's extra-puzzling that he would attempt to tackle such a sensitive issue with all the sensitivity of a gorilla juggling chainsaws. The movie barrels on through one painfully-awkward set-piece after another, until Frank finally tracks down Dr. Jane, only to get caught by a squad of goons.
The evil doctor plans to put Frank through yet another procedure, this time she's going to replace Frank's arm with a "flipper ... just like a seal." That way, he won't be able to shoot anyone and the world will be "a safer place." Before things go full Tusk, Frank uses his newfound lady-parts to seduce the tragically horny goons.
Allowing him to grab a gun and do, well, this:
All of which inadvertently wades into the transphobic suggestion that Frank is ultimately better off just accepting the body he's clearly not comfortable in, because boobs. In the end, Sigourney Weaver gets a big closing monologue addressing Shalhoub, in which she for some reason references a beloved children's book, intoning: "Good night moon. Good night room. Go fuck yourself Raph."-- which is at least a tad more restrained than, say reciting all of The Giving Tree but adding "suck on my balls and choke" at the end. Then in the very final moments, we learn that Frank cut Dr. Jane's fingers off so she would never be able to practice revenge medicine ever again.
It's truly amazing that this feature-length film exists and was conceived and completed by actual adult human beings likely capable of self-doubt and introspection. No one thought they should consult with a member of the trans community, or even that such a thing would be helpful or necessary. No one thought that Michelle Rodriguez's Life of Brian-quality beard was a bad idea. They made this goddamn thing, but sadly there is no wing in the Oscar museum for patently absurd movie ideas that came to painful fruition.
Top Image: Saban Films