Tank Girl (1995), or This Is All Very Nice, But…

4 09 2009

Tonight I really wanted to bash Tank Girl and really give it a good walloping, but something in me told me to hold on and do a little research. And what I found is that despite this movie being a complete and utter failure as a coherent piece of movie-making, it was actually 100% equal to its source material. That’s right: the Tank Girl comic strip, created by Gorillaz mogul Jamie Hewlett, isn’t very good. It actually sucks pretty hard. It’s not something I would like to follow for an inordinate amount of time or even for one more panel. So despite what you might think about this ULTRA piece of 90s alternative cheese, it’s actually impressive in the sense that it might actually surpass its own source material, a feat that eludes most adapted screenplays. So now that I’ve set up the first piece of bread on this compliment sandwich, it’s time for the unsatisfactory fixin’s.

For those who are unacquainted with Tank Girl’s mythology, it all happens in THE FUTURE!!! In your usual dystopian scenario, after the apocalypse, caused by a giant comet (not our fault for a change! Whoo!), utilities like water are a valuable commodity. And when there’s valuable commodities to be traded, you know there’ll be some Lex Luthor-like corporate criminals close behind. One corporate criminal in particular, the evil Kesslee, controls most of the water and power with his massive company W&P. He keeps a tight grasp on it, barely giving the people any water at all. Even where there are communities with their own wells, Kesslee makes sure they don’t stay independent for long by raiding the wells. His most recent well raid might be his last though, because he unleashed the wrath of Rebecca, an energetic Gen-X member of a rebel resistance who will soon be Tank Girl as soon as she steals a tank! And once she does, you can bet your ass that she will have all kinds of tricks up her sleeve to bring Kesslee’s evil empire crashing down! And when your friends are a quasi-lesbian fighter pilot a team of special-ops kangaroos, you know you’re in for a wild ride, right? RIGHT?!

Tank Girl is a strange movie. It’s a 90-minute ride through Sillytown that left me wondering what the point to any of it was. Primarily because Tank Girl seems to be a cameo performer in her own movie. She talks a lot of Gen-X nonsensical babble, she rarely drives the plot, and her own character is at odds with this ridiculously commonplace world they made. Earth after the comet is a very tepid affair, lacking anything of interest, and serving only as a foil for how weird Tank Girl is. Everything else is your standard post-apocalyptic nightmare, with people dressed in leather and rags standing next to flaming trash cans, and then WOOP! there’s this tiny crazy blonde, shouting lackadaisically eye-rolling lines like, “Look, it’s been swell, but the swelling’s gone down!” and “I’m gonna hit you so hard, your children will be born bruised!” It’s not exactly on an even keel.

And speaking of the actors, let’s get right to the heart of the matter; one of the big reasons this movie stalled at the box office and became the very definition of infamous was the fact that all the actors involved were unequivocally hackneyed and pathetic. The main offender here is Lori Petty, who might have actually been performing in another, more chaotic movie off-screen. She has strange reactions to events and people; she never seems to understand the gravity of any situations as a character, and so literally no tension becomes built-up throughout 90 minutes. And even her loyalties seem questionable, the way she harangues her protegee Jet Girl, played by Naomi Watts, who also plays poorly. She is the nerdy counter-point to Petty’s manic free-spirit, but she doesn’t quite make me believe enough that she’s a “nerd” to let me give her a chance; she still has too much vibrancy as a person to really play Jet Girl, so instead she just acts like a wannabe Tank Girl, second-banana style, an unsure wallflower at the Sadie Hawkins Dance that is this film. Malcolm McDowell apes every evil capitalist of all time to play Kesslee, the asshole corporate scum with all the water. I think we can all tell how that worked out, because if you’ve seen one Malcolm McDowell movie in the 90s you’ve seen ’em all (with the exception of Schweitzer, the whole decade was a wash for him artistically).

And did I mention that Ice-T plays a talking ninja-kangaroo! I hope I did, because I don’t want anybody to forget that! If the implications of that aloneĀ  terrify you, you’ll enjoy the second half of this movie at least as much as a root canal.

If anything can be said positive about Tank Girl, it’s that it has energy. The problem is that there’s too much of it unfocused. It’s balls-to-the-wall fury one minute, then the next we’re hearing Lori Petty belt out “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love” like a transient singing for dope money. I can’t even catch my breath before something weird and zany comes on the screen to defy all logic. Not that it’s a bad thing all the time; I appreciated the funky Gen-X mannerisms peppered with unbridled vitality at times, but between the manic animated sequences, the live-action shenanigans, and the fucking kangaroo scenes, I needed some respite that Tank Girl wasn’t willing to give.

Tank Girl, as a movie, will do your homework, shine your shoes, and arrange your cupboard quite nicely, but it won’t stop punching you in the face while it works. It tries too hard in many of the wrong ways, and it just becomes a rattled mess that could’ve been molded into a much more focused package. To be fair, I will say that it’s a funny and a heady guilty pleasure, and that I enjoyed it on a so-bad-it’s-good level; on that note, it had me rolling. But with enough movement and over-saturated colors to give me epilepsy and a cast that seemed culled at random from a TV Guide while the producers were high, Tank Girl is less of a movie and more of a spectacle. So go see it to laugh, because as a movie, I can only give it 3 gangster kangaroos out of 10.

Tomorrow is a surprise! Come back often, and I mean often, to see my review, whatever it might be! Until then!!!