This afternoon at the Toronto Film Festival, as the third season of the acclaimed Transparent premiered in a special screening, a more disreputable project debuted across town starring Michelle Rodriguez as a hit man forced into a sex change. Dubbed (re)Assignment, it may be 2016’s biggest what-were-they-thinking fiasco, and when it comes to trans issues, this throwback movie is about as woke as a coma.
“What happened to me … I guess it was a lot better than what I deserved,” growls hit man Frank Kitchen at the top of (re)Assignment. Played by Rodriguez, the ostensibly macho Frank carries out a series of for-hire murders while sporting a messy ponytail, a spirit-gummed beard, and the fakest chest rug this side of Austin Powers. With her manicured facial hair, Rodriguez looks more like an unenthusiastic A.J. McLean cosplayer than a hardened hit man, and every time she appeared onscreen in her male guise, I found myself longing for the verisimilitude of The Tyra Banks Show. Butch though Rodriguez may be, even she can’t sell the effects-aided moment when Frank steps out of the shower, fake chest hair matted with water, and lets his dick swing toward the camera. Audiences have been agitating for gender equality when it comes to screen nudity, but I suspect this isn’t quite what they had in mind.
Glowering Frank just wants to go about his lonely life as a vodka-swilling, blonde-banging hit man, but after murdering a rich drug addict, he comes into the orbit of the mark’s unhinged sister, Dr. Jane (played by Sigourney Weaver, for some reason!). Dr. Jane has Frank abducted and enacts her awfully complicated revenge by forcing him through gender-reassignment surgery, buying him a starter wardrobe of feminine clothes, and giving him a steady supply of hormone pills plus a per diem for sundries. “I’ve liberated you from the macho prison you’ve been living in,” says the mad doctor, though Frank doesn’t take it so well: Clad in nothing but a merkin, we watch as Rodriguez examines her nude, feminine body in the mirror and collapses to the ground, screaming.
Needless to say, in the year 2016, a movie that treats gender reassignment as the ultimate karmic punishment for mass murder might be a little out of step with the times. Trans people have already begun protesting the film on Twitter, and I suspect they’ll soon be joined by fans of good cinema. Directed by veteran filmmaker Walter Hill (The Warriors) working in Uwe Boll mode, (re)Assignment is a mess that mixes way too many framing devices, shoots random scenes in black and white and forgets to subtitle others, and relentlessly time-stamps every moment as though it’s crucial to know that a barely glimpsed scene of Frank committing his umpteenth murder happened at 4:19 p.m.
Rodriguez has been magnetic in other movies yet seems ill at ease here as she slips in and out of a meatball-smacking “hey, whatsa matta you” accent and eyes every scene like she’s looking for the door, but it’s Weaver’s presence that proves the most confounding. Sigourney, why? It pains me to dislike a film where this 66-year-old icon of cinema wears menswear and hisses, "None of you are worthy of my time,” but alas, (re)Assignment merits no love. At the very least, Weaver’s overwritten, over-the-top scenes do provoke their fair share of b-movie laughs: “I’m afraid I’ve been a very naughty lady,” she murmurs at one point to a hapless psychiatrist (Tony Shalhoub! He’s in this, too!), while in another scene, the Shakespeare-quoting doc hints at a rapacious sex life, but sniffs, “I’ve never concerned myself with my partner’s pleasure.” Still, (re)Assignment is too hapless to become a cult classic.
Last year, the Toronto Film Festival had a clutch of films that were ostensibly about queer and trans people but were really centered around straight characters; already, this year rates better on the representation front thanks mostly to the terrific, sensitive Moonlight. So as not to step on that film’s significant moment, let’s make like Sigourney Weaver’s lifetime-achievement montage and pretend (re)Assignment never existed. (Unless the Kennedy Center Honors someday want to use Weaver’s line “Goodnight, moon. Go fuck yourself” as a button. It’s no “Get away from her, you bitch,” but if (re)Assignment is worth anything, it’s as a reminder that Sigourney Weaver knows her way around a good profanity.)