Run Time: 104 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Cast: Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Malcolm McDowell, Ice T, Don Harvey, Jeff Kober, Reg E Cathey, Scott Coffey, Iggy Pop, James Hong, et al.
Director: Rachel Talalay
This has been out on DVD awhile but I only recently picked it up. When I purchased this the cashier (a young woman) commented, "That's a great movie."
While I've heard similar sentiment echoed over the years I've also heard, mostly from readers of the comic, and with very colorful metaphors, that this movie is a terrible adaptation with a actress totally ill suited to the titular role. Who's right?
Having finally seen the movie in it's entirety I can understand how some might hold both views. It's all a matter of perspective.
Tank Girl is based on an "adult" underground comic book of the same name. However Tank Girl, the movie, lacks sex and nudity though has some mild violence. In fact considering the actual content I do not know why this has an R-rating, unless a lot was cut out. The sometimes foul language and scarce sexual innuendo are rather tame. The CSI shows currently airing on TV have more explicitness. Thus, in my opinion, the movie is really closer to PG-13 fare; which is rather disappointing as one expects more of a R-rated feature. But before we get into that let's find out more about. .
The year is 2033. A meteor struck the Earth and impacted the global climate with dire consequences causing weather patterns to change. The immediate result being precipitation ceased. Thus much of the Earth has become scorched desert wasteland. Civilization teeters on the brink of extinction. Organized governments have collapsed and with water the most prized commodity a single mega-corporation has arisen to fill the power vacuum. That corporation is:
Water & Power. Did the production run out of money for exterior shots? Did someone think using a comic book panel was being clever? It's not. Saves money on special effects though.
If you don't like self-referential movies that break the fourth wall by using inserts from the comic books on which they are based as a thematic crutch instead of attempting plot development then read no further. Tank Girl is self-referential to the Nth degree.
I could sum this movie up in two or three paragraphs but I feel a lot more needs to be said, starting with the DVD, which is an otherwise good presentation with excellent video quality that's marred by a lack of extras. This movie was based on a underground comic book and, at the very least, you'd think a background bio, history of the characters, something about the original comic, if only a still gallery of scanned covers, would have been included. That's pretty simple to put together and shouldn't cost much. This isn't an iconographic mainstream character like Conan or Judge Dredd thus I really would have liked some background information.
Alas the DVD only provides a trailer and language options, which I found rather odd. So, after doing a bit of research, imagine my surprise when I discovered a site detailing a number of cut scenes. Better yet they provided sample MOV files. Just watching the scenes is enough to make me wonder what the studio hacks were thinking. There's really nothing overtly objectionable to be seen, though I admit the scene between Tank Girl and the mutant kangaroo might have been a thorn under someone's saddle. But considering Howard the Duck got passed with a PG and there's more explicitness on late night broadcast TV I can only assume the mainstream suits were confused by this movie.
So no still gallery, no commentary, no insert, no PDF versions of the script or comics, just a trailer and three trivial factoids printed on the back cover. While the presentation itself is in Widescreen (2:35.1) with English, French, and Spanish language options included the DVD seems more like a quickie release. Which is sad.
Just check out the Tank Girl page at Rachel Talaley dot com for a glimpse of what could have been included. For behind the scenes information and still images visit the Tank Girl page at Studio Props. If you'd like to learn more about the background of Tank Girl comics click here or here. To learn more about the movie and DVD read on. .
Assessment & Nitpicking
As I look back upon my viewing experience I'm forced to admit Tank Girl didn't really seem to have much of a point. Sure it kept me awake but that's not enough. The movie plays like an extended music video; all flash no substance.
Tank Girl starts off as a promising murder-revenge story when, at the very beginning of the feature, Water & Power goons kill Tank Girl's boyfriend/family. Sure it's her fault as she was supposed to be sitting watch but was goofing off instead, thus allowing the goons to sneak up on everyone. .
Now I've read that there was supposed to be a scene somewhere in which Tank Girl smoked marijuana. If such a scene was meant to precede these events that would at least make sense, her acting this stupid about safety would be because she was stoned. Alas I can only go with the scene as found on the DVD, which is Tank Girl playing with stuffed animals, drinking a beer (actually Ms. Petty spit's the beer out and looks surprised so this is likely an outtake edited into the montage), smoking a cigarette, and generally allowing her family to be murdered out of sheer self-absorbed stupidity.
But we all know how these sorts of clichéd movies play out. The not very serious character is forced to deal with life's harsh realities and, usually embittered and enraged, learns to fight back.
As is expected Tank Girl is taken to Water & Power to work as part of a slave labor force. Why? Because it wouldn't be much of a movie if the goons had killed her, just don't ask why they killed everyone else or why her character would be so blasé about security if heavily armed trigger happy goons roam the wasteland as that way lies madness. If you're familiar with post-apocalypse movies you know what's coming next.
This is the part where the main character usually makes their contacts with others looking to fight the power. Sure enough Tank Girl meets Jet Girl while working as a slave laborer. Their meeting is actually rather interesting for Jet Girl is being sexually harassed by some pompous gimp. Tank Girl saunters up to Jet Girl (who's never met her), tells the sleazy gimp to leave her girlfriend alone, then kisses Jet Girl full on the lips. .
Now that's how to make friends and influence people! Soon after they escape, taking a tank with them, and thus the stage is set for Tank Girl to begin her quest to fight the evil Water & Power, right?
Sort of. Beyond the nebulous Tank Girl vs. Water & Power nonce I'm not sure what the story is supposed to be about. The pacing is frenzied, almost as if someone with ADD edited this while high on crack. Malcolm McDowell plays the villain with gusto but what his beef with Tank Girl is seems to be a secret known only to the scriptwriter. Too, things just sort of happen without any real rhyme or reason.
I don't want to give too much away, as a lot of crazy stuff does happen, but my impression of the movie is it is series of scenes edited together by someone without any sense of linear continuity or what the story was supposed to be about. (Either that or the production never quite finished.) Which makes reviewing it based on what was seen, not what I may have read about the movie or know of the story, a bit difficult.
For instance at roughly 47 minutes we see 'Tank Girl' in what, to my eye, looks like outtakes from a promotional shoot inter-cut with a onsite shoot. This is preceded by a chaotic montage of twirling comic strip panels supposedly indicating that Tank Girl and Jet Girl have been working on the tank. Whether the scenes in question were part of a promotional shoot or not is irrelevant. The fact the cinematic style suddenly shifted so abruptly was enough to make me sit up and take notice, especially of what Tank Girl is wearing. .
For most of the sequence she's wearing that blue jumpsuit. Then, suddenly, we see flashes of this. .
That's a continuity error. Why?
Tank Girl should not appear in that shirt until much later in the movie. I really hate to give plot points away but that shirt belongs to one of the mutant kangaroos. As the scene (which appears much later in the movie) unfolds we see Tank Girl and mutant kangaroo laying down talking. .
Then, rather abruptly, we have a black screen that cuts to Tank Girl (now wearing said shirt) talking to the mutant kangaroo. .
It is the next morning. The intimation is clear, or at least would have been had anyone cared about continuity in the slightest.
However the frenzied pace of the movie combined with it's nonstop barrage of comic book montages flies by so fast it's not likely most will realize this movie has been hacked to bits in post. Still the slipshod editing at least explains how promotional footage might have been snuck into the film, the studio would have need to use it as padding.
But what really irked me was seeing a scene like this. .
With the skulls and keyboard in the foreground and the expanse of desert stretching back to the ruined cityscape. That's a striking composition for a scene that's barely on screen for a few seconds. When you consider there's also a clock, signifying how short our time is, that shows someone put real thought into putting that together. It's magnificent establishing shots like that which betray what might have been. Alas the bulk of the feature plays like a uninspired low budget 80s post-apocalypse flick interrupted every fifteen minutes by a epileptic seizure of comic book montages.
The one aspect that distinguishes Tank Girl for most, the feminist subtext, is sadly restrained. Someone felt threatened by it and did their best to tone it down, as evidence by the content in certain of the cut scenes. I wonder if the studio, perhaps midway through shooting, realized what sort of comic book they were dealing with and got cold feet? They certainly meddled with the post-production but whether they interfered with the actual filming I do not know. This is the sort of thing that a commentary track would have been great for. I would love to have heard what the director and actors had to say about the movie, alas the studio didn't bother leaving us only questions and speculation.
A Burning Question
The rating on this movie really bugs me. I could forgive Tank Girl it's foibles if it was PG, even PG-13, but with an R-rating on it I really expected more. Cherry 2000, a post-apocalypse movie the MPAA also rated PG-13, contained brief frontal female nudity and examines, rather frankly, sexuality in a dystopian future. Tank Girl does not. Even Waterworld, another PG-13 entry in the post-apocalypse genre, has brief nudity and a bit of grue. Take away the gore and violence and Waterworld is about on par with Planet of the Apes, which also had semi-nudity, but carries an G rating.
Such inconsistency utterly baffles me!
Why does Tank Girl have a MPAA classification of R? Is it the feminist subtext? Is it because Lori Petty was not a big name star at the time?
When compared to other R-rated entries in the genre such as Mad Max, Escape from New York, Steel Dawn, Cyborg, and their numerous knock-offs these movies all uniformly earned their R-rating with a combination of gratuitous violence and nudity not merely adult themed dialogue or innuendo. The only real exception I can think of is Judge Dredd, which didn't have nudity, though it did have wasteland cannibals and a scene involving a roasting spit and a human corpse. I don't care who you are that's a rather gruesome scene that justified the rating. But Tank Girl doesn't have cannibals or gore and could easily air on TV with minimal bleeping.
So what's the deal? Tank Girl is a quirky tongue-in-cheek comic book fantasy. There is no gratuitous nudity, no explicit gore, and very minimal coarse language. Yes there is innuendo but aside from one dance hall scene in a bordello. .
With a few "scantily clad" showgirls. .
This is one tame movie. If this is the edit that played in theaters it's no wonder Tank Girl tanked at the box office. If you're going to do a post-apocalypse movie and release it to theaters with an R-rating it better have gratuitous violence, nudity, and/or gore or no one is going to want to see it. That's not a politically correct thing to say but it's true. Anyway I just had to get that off my chest.
Tank Girl has been released on VHS, Laserdisc, and DVD. The DVD may be difficult to find in brick and mortar stores as it was released a while ago so you may want to check with online vendors. There was also some tie-in movie merchandise, the most notable of which was a Tank Girl role-playing game. .
A really great over the top movie got smothered to death by executive mediocrity during the making of Tank Girl. While there are some stunning visuals the movie, as a whole, plays like a fumbled adult farce that's been reedited for a juvenile audience. It should be funny, you want to laugh, but the movie never goes the distance. Sure you chuckle now and again but Tank Girl is like a boxer that has a phobia about hitting his opponents.
What this movie wants to be is a gritty dark fantasy post-apocalyptic adult farce chock full of bleak social commentary and dark humor. What we get is a vacuous silly loony toons style live action cartoon with low brow Junior High dialogue passing itself off as a feminist anthem. It's no wonder this movie was a box office flop.
However what is surprising is that this has found a cult following with young women. Tank Girl, despite it's flaws, is a movie with a female protagonist in a genre dominated by male antiheroes. Thus, while I can see the appeal, I also know the movie could have been much better. Still, for what it is, Tank Girl is no more ludicrous than Hell Comes to Frogtown or A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell.
I'd thus recommend renting Tank Girl as a hyperactive tongue-n-cheek campy feminist post-apocalyptic fable for intellectual mature young adults and adults alike, never mind the rating printed on the DVD. If you really want to have a fun evening rent Barb Wire as the second feature. Both movies are adapted from comic books, both have great visuals yet, due to their minor imperfections, are prime bad movie night viewing. The movies have a very similar vibe and should be complimentary viewing.
However, and this is key for planning coed viewing, the gals will probably enjoy Tank Girl far more than the guys and, once it's done, the guys can enjoy Barb Wire. That said unless you collect post-apocalypse movies I'd pass on buying this, especially if you haven't seen it. Rent it first!
Copyright © C. Demetrius Morgan
[This is an archived review. Originally posted here.]