The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - TOMBOY | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - TOMBOY

A hitman seeks revenge on the surgeon who reassigned his physical gender.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Walter Hill

Starring: Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Caitlin Gerard, Anthony LaPaglia

tomboy the assignment poster

Not since Ray Milland played a racist whose head is transplanted onto the body of a black man in 1972's The Thing With Two Heads has a movie boasted such a 'You really went there, huh?' premise as Walter Hill's latest, Tomboy (released in the US as The Assignment, having previously been known under the title (Re) Assignment).

Sporting a beard that looks like it was drawn with a magic marker, a fake hairy chest and a prosthetic schlong, Michelle Rodriguez plays Frank Kitchen, a macho hitman who finds his life changed forever when he offs the brother of Rachael Kay (Sigourney Weaver), a surgeon specialising in backstreet gender reassignment operations.

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Following a late night abduction, Kitchen wakes to find his beard gone, his hairy pecs replaced by firm breasts and little Frank nowhere to be seen. We know Kay has worked her magic as a means of revenge, as the flash-forward framing device of Weaver being interviewed by a psychiatrist (Tony Shalhoub) makes clear, but Frank isn't privy to such knowledge and sets out on a quest to find the surgeon responsible and exact vengeance.

Thanks to the subject of its plot, Tomboy is walking a political tightrope, and it's already drawn criticism, albeit mainly from those who have yet to see the film. While its identity politics are undoubtedly little more than an excuse for an attention-catching synopsis, the film goes out of its way to espouse a trans-positive message, pausing at one point for Weaver to deliver a monologue on how gender identity is more than a physical construct.

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That's the trouble with Tomboy; it wants to be an old school exploitation movie while at the same time boasting a social conscience, but the two don't blend well. Weaver's surgeon quotes from Edgar Allen Poe's essay 'The Philosophy of Composition', in which the writer argues that art shouldn't be constrained by moral and political considerations, but Hill is unwilling to back up such a thesis in his own work. The result is a crushing bore of a movie that's so desperate not to offend that it shackles itself and fails to deliver anything remotely entertaining. Nor is it in any way politically challenging (unless you're  an outright transphobe), as it hammers home its message rather than leaving any food for thought for the viewer to pick at.

There's practically nothing here that identifies the movie as a Walter Hill film; none of the standout action set-pieces, larger than life characters and witty dialogue we expect from the veteran director. The storytelling is amateurish, with the plot conveyed through exposition heavy conversations, voiceover and direct to camera addresses. Tomboy could have been a comeback for Hill on the level of Paul Verhoeven's Elle, but it suffocates under the weight of its subject matter as its creator naively attempts to avoid controversy.

Tomboy is on Netflix UK now.