Directed by Walter Hill, Tomboy is a revenge thriller starring Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver but despite the neo-noir vibe and the desire to be compelling, the movie falls flat into tedium notwithstanding respectful performances from the leads. Rodriquez plays Frank Kitchen, a top assassin, but when Frank is one day double-crossed, he (Yes, and we’ll come to that) is given up to Weaver’s somewhat psychotic medical doctor-cum-artist Dr Kay who changes Frank from a man into a woman, due to something Frank has done in his past.
The trouble with Tomboy, also known as The Assignment on general release, isn’t the surgery change or that Rodriquez initially plays a man who becomes a woman, it’s more the fact that it’s all painfully dull. Early on the script is pushed into its audience by Weaver’s Dr Kay factually describing her very nature of existence to us, and why she does what she does to ‘patients’. Although an obvious trope in this style, here it feels like a cheat to progress the narrative with a forced regard.
In the early stages, Rodriquez is adorned with a stuck-on beard and there’s a rather pointless shower scene to point out, visually, that she’s a man. If you went into the film without any background information, it would only confuse you because – even with a fake beard – we all know what Michelle Rodriquez looks like. There’s also a thrown in sex scene where Frank proves his ‘manliness’ because he’s all tough and brooding but it feels more laughable than helpful.
Then, one day, for no logical reason (other than she’s got the skills to do it at this point) Weaver’s Doctor does the surgery deed and Frank is now a man and looking like the Rodriquez we know. Eventually, after the big reveal of a change, and clues left in the room where Frank wakes up, we find a revenge thriller on the way. Oh and more nakedness to prove Frank is now a woman.
So, after Frank discovers herself, both figuratively and literally, the story flips back and forth between an investigation where Weaver’s Doctor talks through her past and offers up more than she is being asked for. Questioned in a psychiatric hospital by Tony Shalhoub’s Dr Ralph, it doesn’t hide the fact that there’s probably something we don’t know yet. Moving on and back to Frank, who’s out for vengeance, she’s on the hunt to take out those who made him who she is today. It’s randomly portrayed with graphic novel stylistics and although there are compelling moments of intrigue, the sluggish nature of how we get here lingers with dissatisfaction.
Overall, Rodriquez gives another solid, intense performance and, in truth, she’s always pretty great in the action genre. Weaver plays it straight, with some essence of Hannibal Lecter with a power complex but without the desire to eat people, it’s a by-the-numbers obsessional, renegade Doctor. The script is to blame as it plods along with vast self-explanation and finds itself dragged deep in cliché.
Over everything, there’s also the important question of whether Tomboy is transphobic, or whether it holds any threat at all to the important discussion and awareness about being transgender. For me, I don’t think it is because it’s neither offensive nor insightful and basically forgettable as a whole. I found it more saddening that there’s this lacklustre underbelly of films being made by classic directors (See Dog Eat Dog as another example) and I don’t know why when there’s an excess of better films waiting to be made with more stimulating, intelligent stories.