Tank Girl

A novel way of adapting a comic for a movie - totally ignoring it.

Released in 1995, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 09 Feb 2003 by Scott Morris
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British comics have been somewhat under represented in the movie translation market. Despite the quality of the source material, the few films made have been of somewhat disappointing. Actually, that's giving them a grandeur they don't deserve. Judge Dredd is a fine example of ruining a license, and in the quality stakes Tank Girl is right behind it.

Based on Jamie Hewlett's comic strip, in the sense that it features the same character as the comic. Most of the comic storylines were never going to lend themselves to the big screen, due to their general insanity. Evidence for this - "Indiana Potato Jones has discovered God's all powerful dressing gown, giving him the power to travel through time and space. Where does he end up? In the middle of our favourite comic strip. Through the ingenious use of her natural talents, Tank Girl ends up with the gown, while Indy has all the blood drained from his body." Tank Girl was never particularly about good vs. evil, normally favouring beer drinking, sex with kangaroo-men (!) and other such irreverence. Hollywood was never going to fly that particular bird, and so created a somewhat lacklustre action movie instead.

Lori Petty plays the titular menace, living in an Australia with even more desert in it since a meteor strike threw the eco-systems out of whack. It's now 2033, and water is a precious commodity, especially as it hasn't rained in 11 years. We join her searching for a present she can get her boyfriend, eventually looting the boots off a dead Water and Power employee who had been killed by the Rippers. The Rippers are an army of half man / half kangaroo genetically engineered mutants, who have a particular grudge against the Water and Power corporation. Water and Power have all of the water, and all of the power. Tank Girl lives in a small commune in the Blue Dunes, refusing to kow-tow to the Water and Power goons, stealing water whenever they can. This kind of behaviour is always going to incur the corporations wrath, especially when they are hell bent on controlling the remaining 5% of the desert they currently don't have full possession of, thanks to ongoing battles with the Rippers.

Indeed, the goons quickly attack and make mincemeat of everyone in their little house, with Ms. Girl making a valiant but futile stand. She is captured rather than killed, the W&P goons making the critical mistake of wanting to 'have fun' with her. This proves to be a fatal mistake for one of the goons, but nonetheless she is brought before the W&P boss, Kesslee.

Kesslee is played by Malcom McDowall, who has played essentially the same urbane psycho in near enough everything since A Clockwork Orange. The psycho part is established here by his displeasure of his previous Army commander's failure to capture the Blue Dunes, and dispatches him by means of a handy little device that sucks all the blood out of him and converts it to precious water. That's not nearly evil enough, so he then drinks this water in front of the rest of the onlooking commanders.

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Refusing to work for Kesslee, Tank Girl is thrown into the mines for a nice spot of slavery. This doesn't last long before she escapes the watchful eye of her captors and makes her way off to collect a tank, on the way saving her eventual sidekick Jet Girl (Naomi Watts) from the unwanted attentions of Sgt. Small (Don Harvey). This is doomed to fail, unfortunately, as she is quickly recaptured. Kesslee's attempts to break her spirit and turn her into a willing ally are also doomed to failure, leaving us at a bit of a stalemate. Kesslee's solution is simple - have Tank Girl be the advance scout into the newly discovered base of the Rippers, mainly to trigger boobytraps. Before she is forced to enter the lair, the Rippers attack and cause havoc. They contrive to miss our hero though, although later events show that Kesslee is now sans arm and somewhat worse for wear. He's largely put back together by Che'tsai, a specialist cybergenic reconstructive surgery.

Jet Girl also escapes from the clutches of W&P, appropriately in a Jet. She's a shy mechanic, a slightly geeky character who is never really brought to life during the film. This is more an indictment of the poor quality of the script than of Watts, who has proven to be a more than capable actress (see Mulholland Drive and The Ring for further examples). On their travels, they find out that one of Tank Girl's friends, a kid called Sam (Stacy Linn Ramsower) wasn't killed by the W&P boys, but taken prisoner and set to work in a nightspot-cum-brothel named Liquid Silver. They can't leave Sam to this fate, so they try to bust her out. They spend a little too much time forcing the brothel Madame to sing Cole Porter numbers, and W&P attack them. How many times must we lose heroes to this fate before we learn? No musical numbers when in danger of being captured.

W&P's elite goons capture Sam, using her as bait to recapture Jet and Tank. J & T don't disappoint Kesslee, but they wisely decide that to attack an army, they need an army. The Rippers are an army. Sound logic. They try and enlist the freaky kangamen. They're initially suspicious, as I am of the decision to cast Ice-T in anything. Nonetheless, he plays T-Saint here, with as much dignity as you'd expect a man-garoo to be played with, namely none. They are given a chance to prove themselves, and are sent out to spy on an incoming W&P shipment. This isn't enough for T-Saint to trust them, and he politely demands they hijack the shipment. She does this comparatively easily thank to the super advanced tank she's in possession of. The Rippers, under the leadership of Jack Kerouac kangaroo (don't ask) admit them to their little gang of outlaws. It's during this phase of the movie, where things like character development normally happens that it really starts to drag. It serves only to make it apparent that this film has two things going for it, Lori's asides to Kesslee & Co and McDowell's charismatic nutcase character. When these aren't happening, the film becomes irredeemably poor.

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Thankfully it doesn't last too long as the Rippers find out Kesslee's had Johnny Prophet killed (don't ask) and decide to take out Kesslee. The Rippers infiltrate the the W&P base in Jet Girl's jet, while Tank Girl storms in with the tank. So predictable, these women.

The infiltration goes fairly well until Jack Kerouac-aroo is topped, prompting the Rippers to go on a kill crazy rampage. Meanwhile, Kesslee baits a hook by putting Sam in a tube slowly being filled with water, and using his newfound impersonation skills to lure T.G. over so he can handily explain his master plan. He was merely using her to get his grubby mitts on the Rippers. Things look grim for T.G, given Kesslee has a neat new metal cybernetic razor encrusted arm to play with. Without going into details, it's not going to surprise you that the good guys win and Kesslee, well, doesn't.

This film is one of my guilty little pleasures, despite it being rubbish. It's mainly due to McDowell, who for once has the perfect excuse to overact as (melo)dramatically as he likes, and fits in perfectly with the tone of the film rather than jarring with it as he normally tends to. Lori Petty plays her part as well as the script allows, with the rest of the cast never really rising above mediocre.

In it's favour, the cinematography is fairly appropriate. It does feel and look like a comic, just not a terribly good one. Where it fails is capturing the spirit of the comic book, as it's essentially unrelated to it. It's never funny enough to be enjoyed as a comedy and there's nothing like enough action to be successful at that. There's no emotional involvement with the characters, as it's never played seriously enough for this to occur. Most of the successful comic adaptations are based on finding the very human qualities in the heroes that we can relate to, while Tank Girl doesn't attempt this at all.

As I said, I do actually like this more than the upcoming mark indicates, but by any rational analysis this film is a failure, so I'm going to assume it's some kind of temporary 99 minute insanity.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this a mere 1/5 TippyMark.

DVD Notes:- Nice transfer, shame about the total lack of any extras at all. Soundtracks in five languages though, if that's important to you.

Rachel Talalay
Cast list:
Lori Petty (Tank Girl)
Naomi Watts (Jet Girl)
Malcom McDowell (Kesslee)
Ice-T (T-Saint)