VOD film review: Tomboy
Matthew Turner | On 23, Mar 2017
Director: Walter Hill
Stars: Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, Anthony LaPaglia
Watch Tomboy online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Formerly known as both (Re)Assignment and The Assignment, this bizarre revenge thriller represents something of a career low for cult director Walter Hill, whose previous films include bonafide genre classics, such as Southern Comfort, 48 Hrs and The Warriors. It’s entirely possible that the cult value of Tomboy may increase with time – just not in a good way.
Hill, who co-wrote the script with Denis Hamill, opens the film with not one, but two framing devices, which seems entirely appropriate for a film this confused. In the first, gifted surgeon Dr Rachel Jane (Sigourney Weaver) is interviewed by Dr Ralph Galen (Tony Shalhoub) in a psychiatric hospital, to determine whether or not she’s insane. In the second, vengeance-seeking hitman Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez) narrates the story of how he was abducted by Dr Jane, who gave him gender reassignment surgery against his will, in retaliation for Frank having killed her debt-ridden brother (Adrian Hough).
The actors do their best, but they’re both severely let down by a substandard script that labours under the weight of too much clunky exposition. Weaver, for her part, plays Jane as perpetually unruffled, chastising Shalhoub’s character for not having read Shakespeare and coolly spouting nonsense about gender roles, but there’s a glazed look in her eyes that suggests she’s doing this as a favour to a friend (which she may well be – Hill was a producer on Alien).
Meanwhile, Rodriguez has tough guy attitude and charisma to spare and she’s fine in the post-operation scenes, but she’s laughably unconvincing as a man – no attempt has been made to modulate her voice and she just looks like, well, Michelle Rodriguez with a really bad false beard. Unfortunately, it gets worse, as the film also includes a nude shot of “Frank” with a hairy chest and a penis that’s every bit as weird as it sounds. (There’s also a sex scene, but thankfully, that’s relatively tasteful.)
It’s clear that Hill was aiming for a pulpy, Sin City vibe, something that’s underscored by occasional inserts of graphic novel-style illustrations. However, the film lacks the visual style to pull that off, despite various film noir tropes, including shadowy alleyways, duplicitous characters and sequences shot in black and white for no discernible reason.
It goes without saying that the film isn’t going to be winning any awards for its gender politics. However, the most frustrating thing is that it finds nothing remotely interesting to say about Frank’s experience, other than lamenting the loss of his male genitalia – he simply goes from being a hitman to a hitwoman. It doesn’t even significantly impact his relationship with kindly Nurse Johnnie (Caitlin Gerard) – “I’ll do what I can”, he assures her, when they rekindle their bedroom activities.
There’s plenty of untapped potential in the premise, but Hill ignores anything that threatens to look like an interesting idea in favour of Frank mowing down bad guys and gratuitous nudity, including a hilarious moment when post-op Frank first catches sight of his naked, now-female body and screams “Noooooooo!” (Given Frank’s surname, it’s unforgivable that no-one makes a “remodelled Kitchen” joke at any point.)
Ultimately, the only thing Tomboy has going for it is the curiosity value generated by its sheer wrong-headedness – this film really does need to be seen to be believed. But believe us: that’s not a recommendation.