Pop quiz: What do Malcolm McDowell, Naomi Watts, and rapper Ice-T have in common? If you said nothing, I’m sorry – no points for you. If you answered “They’re all bipedal mammals who breathe air and drive fancy cars,” close but no cigar smart-alec. But for those of you who know obscure movies (or if you read the title of the review already) you’d know the answer is Tank Girl, a precursor to the Comic Book-to-Film craze that’s so popular these days. Does it stand the test of time? Let’s find out.

The film has a premise so simple, I can sum it up in six syllables: Tank Girl good, McDowell bad. To elaborate, in the year 2033, the Earth has lost the majority of its water due to a massive meteor. The meteor has completely ended rain in any form, subsequently drying up many rivers, lakes, and even oceans. Any remaining water is owned by the villainous Water & Power (here on out referred as W&P), led by the conniving and pain-loving Kesslee (McDowell). Opposing him are the Rippers, genetic mutations created by scientist Johnny Prophet. Caught in the middle is Rebecca (Lori Petty), an outlander of sorts living in a shack built on one of the few remaining free water wells. All is good… for about five minutes. While Rebecca is on guard duty (kind of) W&P troopers swarm in, take the well, kill her boyfriend, and kidnap Sam, her sister… or daughter, or friend from the shack. The movie is never really clear on this.

Rebecca is taken to meet Kesslee, who asks her to become one of his troops. When she refuses, she’s put to work in one of the W&P mines, where she eventually meets Jet (Naomi Watts). Jet is a meek, bookish mechanical genius, and after a bit of coercion from Rebecca, they hotwire a W&P tank and airplane, and get the heck out of Dodge. Oh, and at some point Kesslee gets his right arm and head crushed, but never fear, character actor James Hong (best known for his role as Lo Pan in Big Trouble in Little China) is there to fix him right up for the end of the movie.

The escaped duo then tracks down and rescues Sam, stab Iggy Pop in the hand, and force the owner of a cat house to sing a terrible rendition of Cole Porter’s Let’s Do It. They also manage to lose Sam to the W&P again, setting up the second half of the movie. Rebecca and Jet set out to find the Rippers, which (surprise, surprise) they do. The Rippers don’t trust them at first, especially T-Saint (Ice-T), but after helping the Rippers stop a W&P weapon’s shipment, the girls are (mostly) welcomed into the gang.

This is about the point where Tank Girl loses its last remnants of plot. The weapons shipment was a fake set up by the W&P, who have been listening in on all of Rebecca’s inane conversations using a tiny microphone planted on her while she was prisoner. The “weapons” the Rippers stole was in fact the dead body of Prophet. This sends them into a frenzy and cements the Rippers plan to shut down W&P for good. A massive fight ensues, complete with elaborate wirework and huge explosions. Rebecca has a final showdown with Kesslee, W&P is destroyed, and everyone lives happily ever after. I think.

Whew. Sorry if the synopsis sounded a little manic, but that’s the way this movie plays from beginning to end. Manic. Good news is that Tank Girl the movie is stylistically similar to Tank Girl the comic book. Bad news, most casual viewers will get absolutely nothing out of the movie because they won’t be able to figure out what the heck is going on.

Tank Girl does have a pretty interesting history behind it. Legend has it that at one point in preproduction Steven Spielberg was attached as director. He eventually backed out, stating that he “didn’t feel he could do the source material justice.” Good move, Mr. Spielberg. Also, there is a reason behind much of the film being feeling disjointed and the inclusion of so many animated scenes where it would be just as simple to shoot it live. See, MGM didn’t really “get” Tank Girl. They just utilized the film that would attract the disillusioned youth demographic. They didn’t give the director, Rachel Talalay, and producers enough money to shoot all of the movie, and what money they did give wound up in scenes that were eventually cut from the flick for being too outlandish. So, Talalay had to improvise with the animation, or leave much of the plot out altogether.

In another attempt to garner support from the hip younger crowd, MGM hired Courtney Love in as Executive Music Coordinator. Now, I don’t have much love for Love (no pun intended), but this was actually a pretty good choice. The music of Tank Girl meshed well with the movie overall, with tracks from Bjork, Veruca Salt, Bush, Hole, and of course Ice-T. The costuming and sets on Tank Girl are outstanding. Very true to the comic. The Rippers, while not exactly copied from the source material, look great, thanks in no small part to movie monster maestro Stan Winston. They really give off the “mutated kangaroo-human hybrid” vibe.

If you noticed, not once in the review did I refer to Rebecca as Tank Girl. There is a simple answer for this. She is never ONCE called Tank Girl in the movie. Not one time. Something about that just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s like watching one of the Spider-Man films, but everyone refers to each other by their secret identity. I also wish the stagehands hadn’t given Lori Petty so much sugar before each take. I know Tank Girl is supposed to be hyperactive, but Petty came across as just plain annoying.

So, on to the most difficult task of the review. How many stars do I give this movie? I think the best way to judge the film is to take the “So Bad It’s Good” approach. Kind of like an Inverse Star Rating. Hmmm… that has a nice ring to it. Anyways, I give Tank Girl 2 ½ stars.


And I’ll be totally honest; one of those stars goes solely to the guy who convinced Ice-T to get into the kangaroo suit.


About Author

Sam Dunham was born at a very early age, and shortly after became entangled in the world of film. His first memories are of seeing King Ralph in his local theater. He learned to talk with the help of Adam West's Batman: The Movie. He's one of the few people to still own a working RCA Videodisc player (heck, it's where he first watched Young Frankenstein!). When Sam is not perusing his extensive B- movie collection or sitting in dark theaters with a tub of popcorn, he is usually found reading comic books, fixing computers, toiling away at his day job, working some nights at a local radio station as a "soundboard guy," and going to class so that he can one day toil away at his day job fixing computers. One time, Lou Ferrigno conned him out of $20.00. But that's another story...


  1. This movie is less a precursor than it is the dying breaths of the PREVIOUS comics-to-film craze circa 1989. It is, however, one of the few comic book movies that I’ve never seen, nor had much impetus to see, but perhaps I should check it out?

  2. Big Money B.G. on

    Amen. I actually just watched this a couple days ago, subjecting not just one but THREE of my closest friends to it.

    Interestingly enough, this is what they all took from the movie: Naomi Watts is hotter than she’s ever been ever, thanks to the black hair. That’s it. Michelle, the poor girl that had to watch this with us, seemed to really enjoy it because Petty was such a spaz and seemed to enjoy herself.

    And, they sat through the whole damn thing without complaining, and really wanted to finish it. Another friend is a HUGE hip-hop fan, so he was intrigued to see “The Self-Made Pimp” Ice-T scowling behind kangaroo make-up. Good times.

  3. i really liked the movie. yes it has its flaws, but when i started buying comic-adapted movies on dvd, tank girl was one of the first i got.

  4. It’s one of those love-hate films that really should be in my DVD library… next to Flash Gordon and Hackers. If you haven’t watched it lately, or at all, I really suggest you do. I haven’t seen it in a while, but I think I’m going to NetFlix it up along with “Runaway” It’s a shame that we didn’t get a true-to-source movie. That would have been an interesting show.

  5. I saw this when it came out and my first reaction was where’s the kangaroo sex? Now I may come across as some weird pervert, (which I’ll freely admit) but the relationship between Booga and Tank girl were at the core of the first trade. If you’re not going to properly portrait the relationship on screen what else are you going to omit, how about everything!!?! Let’s give Tank Girl a name, let’s introduce the tank half way through the movie….ARRGGHHH!!

    The book doesn’t give us a much of a backstory, it’s just a girl, her tank, her mates and her bloke. It’s about being a in your early twenties and reacting to life
    Case in example No Beer? Why not? Gangsters have the beer? Lets steal the beer from the gangsters etc.
    Having a laugh, doing crazy shit is what the book is about – and as an audience we should be along for the ride. Tank girl the movie is an attempt to make the character mainstream which is about as far removed from her roots of punk sensibility as you could get.

  6. @ Dan

    Heh, funny you should mention ‘kangaroo sex’…

    From what I’ve read, one of the funding problems came when the producers spent $5000.00 on a prostetic… erm, “little kangaroo” for Booga. MGM nixed that scene, but the money was already spent.

    And, oh yeah, Naomi Watts with short black hair and glasses is reason enough to watch the movie.

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