Pop quiz: What do Malcolm McDowell, Naomi Watts, and rapper Ice-T have in common? If you said nothing, Iâ€™m sorry â€“ no points for you. If you answered â€œTheyâ€™re all bipedal mammals who breathe air and drive fancy cars,â€ 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) youâ€™d know the answer is Tank Girl, a precursor to the Comic Book-to-Film craze thatâ€™s so popular these days. Does it stand the test of time? Letâ€™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 goodâ€¦ 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 sisterâ€¦ 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, sheâ€™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 Porterâ€™s Letâ€™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 donâ€™t trust them at first, especially T-Saint (Ice-T), but after helping the Rippers stop a W&P weaponâ€™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 Rebeccaâ€™s inane conversations using a tiny microphone planted on her while she was prisoner. The â€œweaponsâ€ 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 thatâ€™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 wonâ€™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 â€œdidnâ€™t feel he could do the source material justice.â€ 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 didnâ€™t really â€œgetâ€ Tank Girl. They just utilized the film that would attract the disillusioned youth demographic. They didnâ€™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 donâ€™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 â€œmutated kangaroo-human hybridâ€ 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 doesnâ€™t sit right with me. Itâ€™s like watching one of the Spider-Man films, but everyone refers to each other by their secret identity. I also wish the stagehands hadnâ€™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 â€œSo Bad Itâ€™s Goodâ€ approach. Kind of like an Inverse Star Rating. Hmmmâ€¦ that has a nice ring to it. Anyways, I give Tank Girl 2 Â½ stars.
And Iâ€™ll be totally honest; one of those stars goes solely to the guy who convinced Ice-T to get into the kangaroo suit.