The Assignment (2017) Movie Review: An Unorthodox Revenge Story Starring Michelle Rodriguez

When I was asked to review The Assignment, I went into it completely blind, having no idea what to expect as far as plot or even genre. After all, PopHorror is a horror-based review site, so I was definitely curious when I saw the poster featuring Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver, both actresses that I admire and respect. Plus, the two are no strangers to B-movie and horror fare: Weaver, of course, was made famous for her portrayal of Ellen Ripley, one of the most badass female protagonists of all time, and Rodriguez is known for her roles in Machete and Resident Evil, always kicking tons of ass. Not to mention, The Assignment was directed by none other than the legendary man himself, Walter Hill, known for many films including Aliens and The Warriors.

As it turns out, The Assignment is steeped much deeper into B-movie pulp fare than horror (a quick shot of a pile of meat on a doctor’s table does not make a horror movie), and this is most likely the wisest choice these filmmakers could have made. I learned that The Assignment has its share of controversy regarding the main plot point of its central protagonist, Frank Kitchen (Rodriguez). Frank is kidnapped by Dr. Rachel Kay (Weaver) and subjected to gender reassignment surgery, thus starting Kitchen down a road of revenge against those who wronged him.

Now, were this to be played for horror – that is, the surgery itself – then yes, the movie would certainly be treading dangerous waters. After all, over 700,000 people in the US alone identify as transgender and spinning such a dangerous and complicated surgical process as body horror has a long history of problematic implications that I won’t go into full detail here. However, given the general context of the film, the surgery itself serves mainly as a catalyst for the revenge story to unfold, and that’s where the train stops. The Assignment, to put it bluntly, is not a brainy film; it never attempts to make a deeper statement about transgender people, surgery, or really much else, and given all other aspects of this film’s creation, that is most likely for the better.

However, getting into the thick of the story: we now have Michelle Rodriguez out for blood against Sigourney Weaver and a slew of slimy and otherwise faceless goons – how does the flick stack up as a B-movie popcorn thriller?

If you’re looking for some mindless pulp, then The Assignment has everything you’d want: Rodriguez with some gritty voiceovers; split story arcs between Kitchen and Dr. Kay, the latter of which has since been arrested and subjected to extensive questioning by psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Galen (Tony Shalhoub); hard-boiled investigations; questioning; graphic novelesque transition sequences… really, this movie drips with potential cult-status material.

Sometimes, however, the movie doesn’t go far enough with its B-movie-ness. That is to say, sometimes it takes itself (and its over-the-top premise) a little too seriously. The difference between The Assignment and a movie such as, say, Grindhouse, is that the latter is fully baked into its genre and takes full advantage of the ridiculousness of its setup – everyone involved is in on the pulp, while this film just isn’t in on the joke.

The Assignment does have moments of B-movie brilliance, however, such as the scene where Kitchen interrogates a character named Honest John, who spots a particularly nasty torture device and deadpans to Kitchen, “You’re not gonna need that.” Little meta moments like this add a necessary air of camp to the film. More of this would have helped to alleviate the controversy surrounding the main character; the film could be written off as camp instead of potential social commentary.

Final thoughts

The Assignment is an unorthodox revenge story that isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a heavy debate into transgender politics, then you might not even bother with this one, as it doesn’t really go into that conversation at all. However, if seeing Michelle Rodriguez shoot up some bad guys and Sigourney Weaver chewing the scenery sounds like a good time, then you’ll almost certainly find things to enjoy about this movie.

About Seth Hansen

Seth is a writer and musician living in Los Angeles. When not explaining to strangers why John Carpenter's The Thing is the greatest horror movie ever made (trust me, it is), he's usually playing violin or hanging out in record store clearance sections. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook!

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