Starring: Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Malcolm McDowell, Ice-T
Director: Rachel Talalay
Distributed by: United Artists
“In 2033, justice rides a tank and wears lip gloss”
After a comet strikes the Earth in 2022, it causes a worldwide drought. Eleven years after the disaster, most of the planet’s remaining water is controlled by the corporation Water & Power and the company’s leader Kesslee. His control of the water allows him control of the world. In a small house in the Australian outback, Rebecca — Tank Girl — and her friends are siphoning water to survive outside of W&P’s control. While on guard duty one night, Rebecca survives a raid on her home which leaves almost all of her friends dead. Now her only goal is to rescue her remaining friend, kill Kesslee, and destroy Water & Power.
I have to say right off the bat, I have never read the comics on which this movie is based on. If you read this review and say to yourself, “Yeah, but the comics were so much better,” or “They left out this important character,” believe me, I understand and I have the Tank Girl comics on my list of things I need to read before I die. But, I am reviewing this film while being a non-fan of the source material.
With that said, I really enjoy watching this movie. From the beginning to the end, Tank Girl entertains with solid humor, good action, and a plot that develops the character of Tank Girl. It is definitely not without its faults, but those can be overlooked because the film’s and main character’s absurdities allow these faults to blend in.
Played by Lori Petty (A League of Their Own, Point Break) Rebecca is a strong character whose personality clashes with the totalitarian society and the dystopian world of Tank Girl. This allows her to make jokes in the face of danger, insult Kesslee right to his face, and be the perfect figurehead for the war against W&P. On top of all that, she is tough. She survives physical abuse and torture at the hands of W&P and comes away without any lingering effects. Whether this is due to psychosis or natural badassery I have no idea, but I like it. She is the perfect anarchist to the society she lives in.
Speaking of Water & Power, Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Time and After Time) plays W&P’s leader Kesslee, an evil man who has a penchant for poetry and violence. Malcolm McDowell’s performance is top notch. He plays a charismatic villain who shows us right off the bat that he will not let anything stop him in his quest to control all the water in the world. This is demonstrated when he has one of his own soldiers walked barefooted across the glass and then kills him for not carrying out Kesslee’s orders. This character is everything that Malcolm McDowell portrays well: crazy, determined, elitist, and magnetic.
The chemistry between Lori Petty and Malcolm McDowell is outstanding. The dialogue really allows them to play off each other, and you can see that on some level they are portraying the same type of character with only minor differences. But, these differences in the characters allow the actors to take the opposite ends of the spectrum of hero and villain.
So enough about the main characters. This movie has a strong supporting cast including Ice-T, Naomi Watts, Reg E. Cathey and Don Harvey. They all do great jobs with their characters and special props to the Rippers actors having to express themselves through a lot of prosthetics and makeup. Naomi Watts (Mulholland Dr., King Kong) as the initially meek Jet is a great opposite to Tank Girl. When she has her conflicts with Don Harvey’s (Taken 3, Eight Men Out)
Sargent Small, she coils away and only passively delays his attempts to assault her compared to how Tank Girl is outwardly defiant to her nemesis. The Rippers — genetically grown creatures who fight W&P — include Ice-T (Johnny Mnemonic, New Jack City), Reg E. Cathy (Fantastic Four, House of Cards), and others who do a great job as individual characters and, as I said before, act through a ton of makeup and prosthetics.
When it comes to visuals, some of the animated scenes which are usually used as transitions can occasionally be jarring. They are particularly bad when they replace an entire scene of the film. While I understand the want to reference the art style that helped make the comic so popular, the extent to which it is used gives the movie an unfinished feel. The effects of the film are pretty good for a movie made in the mid-nineties. The Rippers look a little cheesy, but they fit in well with the feel of the film. The settings definitely give you the feeling of an uneven society with the wealthy not seeming to have a water issue and the lower levels of society living in desert or slave-like conditions. The action of the film is neither heart pounding nor overly gory, but it compliments the film’s style and the story well.
Tank Girl will probably never make it to the top of many people’s comic book/action/comedy film list, but it is a solid and fun film. The humor of Tank Girl can be particular at times, but it helps to keep you entertained and engaged in the movie. The action could have been done better, but it doesn’t ruin the film or have a cheap quality. The actors all put on good performances and fit the characters well. Since its debut, Tank Girl has become a cult film with a fairly strong following and that is what you are going to see when you watch it, a solid cult film. So sit back in the comfort of your couch, enjoy the film, and save me some popcorn!
After you watch it the first time, you’ll think “yeah that was pretty good.” After the fifth time, you’ll be buying Tank Girl comics cause you want to keep following her adventures. Right about halfway the two hundred and fifty-seventh time you watch it, someone is going to throw your TV out the window. — “Look, it’s been swell, but the swelling’s gone down.”