Walter Hill was one of the great pioneers of the American action movie in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Of course, as Hollywood tends to do, the master was spit out of the mainstream once his style of film went out of fashion. Now he tends to work more on the fringes, making television and the occasional oddball film like his latest, ‘(Re)Assignment’, a flick that nimbly bounces between intriguing genre thrills and disposable trash.
At his prime, Hill specialized in terse and tense tales of men stuck in circumstances that required a gun. His movies never aimed for high art, but they stripped genre entertainment to the bone for a pure simple rush of violent thrills filled with memorable characters, effective plotting, and not a second of wasted screen time.
On a certain level, ‘(Re)Assignment’ couldn’t be more simple. It’s a noir-ish revenge tale in which an assassin is wronged and sets out to right that wrong with bullets and bloodshed. The twist is that the assassin is Michelle Rodriguez, initially playing a man named Frank Kitchen who is forced to have an involuntary sex change by psychotic surgeon Dr. Kay (Sigourney Weaver). Kitchen isn’t thrilled, so (s)he kills everyone she can find until she meets Kay face-to-face.
Yeah, it’s an odd one to say the least. Hill further complicates the movie with an odd, twisted flashback structure using multiple perspectives and scene transitions that turn frames into comic book panels.
Needless to say, the gender politics of ‘(Re)Assignment’ are murky at best and the film probably should have been made a few decades ago rather than in this particularly sensitive time. Thankfully, the deliberately trashy flick is so over-the-top that it’s nearly impossible to take offense at anything. However, it doesn’t help that Hill’s tone is all over the place. He’s clearly trying to work in a heightened comic book style with a little tongue-in-cheek sleaze, but it’s never clear how campy things are so supposed to be. There are laughs throughout, but some feel like the wrong kind as the movie dips frequently into absurdity without a safety net.
Still, there’s some good stuff here. Hill knows how to stage a hard-boiled action scene and delivers some good ones. Weaver is hysterically entertaining as a mad gender scientist, and the movie bursts to life whenever she goes batty (typically involving literary quotations for some reason). Rodriguez is also a rock solid action hero with dark intentions, even if her early scenes as a man never quite feel right due to her voice.
‘(Re)Assignment’ is an insane romp through bad taste and vengeance. Unfortunately, it’s also a bit of a mess and really could have benefited from the stripped-down storytelling simplicity that Hill brought to his best work. Reactions will vary. It’s hard to imagine anyone will love the movie without apology, but many will have a good time, ironic or otherwise.