Regardless of the controversy surrounding it, Walter Hill’s The Assignment is mostly an ineffective thriller. Given its unusual premise, this kind of screenplay requires a type of macabre exuberance that pops from the screen and hitting audiences in the face with it. Unfortunately, none of that lands at all. Not that it doesn’t ever try to be exuberant. It does. The performances are over-the-top and director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hours) adds some comic book-styled graphics to help juice up the affair. But even these flourishes aren’t concentrated into any specific purpose. The movie just doesn’t click, or at least it didn’t with me.
Plot-wise, the movie is really all over the place, and it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. The Assignment follows the familiar mental patient/prison inmate and naïve investigator structure; you know, the one where a patient/prison inmate sets up the flashbacks needed to why they’re in the hospital/prison to a naïve investigator, giving them explanations as to why they committed the crime and why their actions aren’t really all that bad – if the investigator just thinks it over a bit. It’s a familiar setup, yet effective if handled well.
The investigator here is psychiatric doctor Ralph Galen (Tony Shalhoub) and the mental patient is rogue doctor Rachel Kay (Sigourney Weaver). Before she was committed, she was attempting to prove her idea of a better world – through highly unethical surgery. After her brother is murdered by hitman Frank “Tomboy” Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez), she and her henchmen capture Frank, lashing him onto an operating table. He awakes hours later and is shocked to discover he’s been physically transformed into a woman. While still identifying as a man, Frank begins a journey to hunt down the people who changed his appearance in a desperate attempt to try to change back into a man.
The flashback structure confuses this whole story. Too many characters and subplots whirl together. But the big problem here isn’t how everything fits together as a whole; we’re here less for resolution than the actual journey. This kind of movie needs stronger individual scenes, the type that standout from the rest. This is a silly B-movie that wants to be a silly B-movie; there’s a place for silly B-movies and I truly do want more silly B-movies and I appreciate the sheer attempt at making silly B-movie. Alas, none of the scenes have any of that special extra kick. They all feel very empty, and yet so close. The plot is so confusing that too much time is spent explaining what is going on in the movie itself. They lack any sort of joy, too focused on developing into the next scene.
The Assignment just didn’t do it for me; it just fell flat. Cool doesn’t necessarily mean angry, and star Michelle Rodriguez gives a pissed off grimace the whole time. It also doesn’t help that the movie lacks humor, and a good B-movie needs a sense of humor. I wasn’t able to empathize with any of the characters as none of them exuded any warmth or humor. Frankly, I don’t like it when a B-movie tries to piss me off; I want to have a fun time, even if I know there’s exploitation onscreen, and this movie just didn’t seem to enjoy itself. And neither did I.