Tank Girl (1995)
Release Date: March 31st, 1995 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Rachel Talalay Actors: Lori Petty, Ice-T, Naomi Watts, Malcolm McDowell, Don Harvey, Jeff Kober, Reg E. Cathey, Scott Coffey, Stacy Linn Ramsower
ay attention!” Rebecca, known as “Tank Girl” (Lori Petty), narrates, unapologetically cursing and snapping at the audience to fill them in on the postapocalyptic premise of her story. It’s 2033 and the world is screwed. Thanks to a comet that made impact with Earth, the planet has fallen into total devastation. It hasn’t rained in 11 years, leaving all the land as a barren desert, where water has become the most important commodity. Of course, most of that resource has fallen into the hands of the corrupt Water & Power Company (or Power & Water, as shown in one comic strip image), helmed by the ruthless Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell).
While Kesslee plots to unearth three-million liters of water from underneath the Blue Dunes, Tank Girl and her small residence of rebels are content with just stealing enough water to survive. But when her home is raided by the authorities and everyone – except for her – is killed, she’s hauled off to Kesslee himself, who offers her a job. But she’s going to need a little coaxing, starting with some hard labor in a mine.
Although Kesslee acts very much like a comic book villain, maniacally shouting at his minions, breaking things, and obligatorily killing off his own men in vicious ways, at least McDowell knows how to put on an exaggerated show of lunacy. He also has some amusing tricks, such as sticking a device onto the body of his disappointing executives, which sucks all the blood and liquids out, converting it into water, while the corpse turns into a rubbery, desiccated meat bag. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a whole lot to work with as far as the dialogue is concerned.
Based on a comic strip by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett, the film doesn’t shy away from its origins. Cutting in frames and pages from the actual source material, “Tank Girl” also makes excellent use of comic book art transitions, which cut down on the need for extra footage or even additional sets. Plus, a few scenes are fully animated, providing a change of pace and a potentially cheaper alternative to filming. Not as inexpensive yet surely economical in appearance are adaptions for otherworldly antagonists from the original stories, proving that the filmmakers’ aren’t content with the evil corporate people presenting problems for Tank Girl alone. She must also contend with a demonic army of flesh-eating, mutant creatures called Rippers (kangaroo monsters, genetically made by Dr. Johnny Prophet), manufactured for the screen by Stan Winston. But the designs are kooky, as if child-friendly rejects from “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” with patchy makeup and fur and stiffly-moving prosthetics. Yet this is anything but a family film.
Partly rebellious, partly playful, but mostly an irreverent, chaotic take on non-supernatural superheroes, “Tank Girl” sacrifices entertainment value and action-movie sensibility for faithfulness to the comics and hyperstylized originality. It may be unique, but it isn’t always engaging. In fact, in its efforts to be eccentric, it’s routinely uncomfortable. And nonsensical, especially when outrageous asides (such as Tank Girl barbecuing during a vehicle chase, or coercing a hostage to sing at knifepoint, or puffing on a saxophone while reciting abstract poetry) lead to the deaths of loved ones or getting recaptured by the enemy.
Although it’s meant to be absurd (at one point there’s a full song and dance sequence), it’s not as comical as it is purely strange. A good percentage of this comes from the overt sexuality, which begins when Rebecca forces her boyfriend to strip at gunpoint, followed by scenes in which characters are threatened with sexual assault and forced fellatio, followed by incest and masturbation jokes, slow-motion showering, a sex doll, strippers and prostitutes (one of which is very underage) in a brothel city, and implied sex between Rebecca and a kangaroo/man hybrid (which was originally supposed to be anything but ambiguous). The script is clearly on sexual overdrive, with nearly every character at some point suggesting or attempting to rape Tank Girl (though this never happens onscreen) or remove her clothes. This is also the kind of film in which, through all the misadventures, torture, outfit and hairstyle changes, escapes, and scuffles in the sand, Rebecca’s makeup stays mostly untarnished. By the end, the mix of action, comedy, sci-fi, perverse sexuality, overwrought editing, and an unshakeable weirdness misses the mark, creating something singular but too awkward, hollow, and only intermittently watchable.
– Mike Massie