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I'd never read Jamie Hewlett’s and Alan Martin’s comic. I wasn’t one of the people who came to this with certain expectations. I went to a theater to see 1995’s film version of Tank Girl -- which is 20 years old this month -- pretty exclusively because a) the preview trailer spoke to me stylistically in a powerful voice and b) Lori Petty.
The thing I remember most about the movie, on that first viewing, was being very weirded out by a scene showing the aftermath of our heroine having sex with a dude who is a half-man/half-kangaroo hybrid. And truth be told, I wasn’t bothered in the main by the cross-species implications, but that the roo-man character in question was really, really dull-witted and annoying. That small glitch aside, I liked the Tank Girl a lot.
If you're one of the legions of people just now discovering Tank Girl on Netflix for the first time, you probably think I'm deranged. Because the implied kanga sex was actually cut from all subsequent releases -- it was only in the theatrical release. MGM was apparently nervous about, y'know, beastiality.
Having recently re-watched it myself, I thought I had invented that scene until I googled for more information. Lo, it did exist. And while the details in my memory were fuzzy, the Internet mentions a specially designed prosthetic kangaroo penis (which, according to IMDB, cost $5,000? this cannot be true) and so I guess I should be grateful for small mercies. (Actually you can see the cut scene on YouTube if you’re curious -- it’s pretty banal though.)
Tank Girl is an early exponent of the "Charlie's Angels - The Movie" school of film-making, a close cousin of the "Austin Powers" style: a series of short, horrible scenes, each of which begins with loud, bad-ass rock music that quickly fades out to some vomit-inducing dialog and ends with a painfully un-funny one-liner. Showing Tank Girl to war prisoners would be an effective means of interrogation, but would likely be a breach of the Geneva Convention.
Horrible, horrible film. Scattered, frantic, with unlikeable characters and an uninteresting plot. The worst movie I've seen in a very long time. I watched about 2/3s of the way through because nothing else was on TV, and then turned the damn thing off and read a book. Nothing anybody does in the whole movie makes sense! None of the characters have coherent motivations, and the lead is especially bad - poorly acted, poorly directed, and poorly written. I'll never get that time back!
I believe that this movie is the Holy Grail of bad films. It has everything one would look for in the worst movie of all time. Most annoying protagonist ever. Check. Terrible acting. Check. Bad storyline. Check. This movie is undoubtedly the worst film I've ever seen which is truly saying something. For years I have scoured late night TV, Wal-Mart bargain bins, and On-Demand looking for a movie to bestow this title upon and I can now say that I have completed this task. This film has no redeeming qualities either. Most movies you can say the acting was bad but at least it had a good premise, but not here this film has nothing going for it. I highly recommend that everyone watch this film because every movie you watch from here on out you can say at least it's better than Tank Girl.
'Vomit City' would be a better title for this disgusting pollutant of a movie… Quick chick flick that has all the subtlety of a raccoon at a dinner party.
But all those people are wrong because Tank Girl is not a bad movie at all.
Allow me to elucidate.
It is a movie entirely about women.
Calling it a “chick flick” is curious, because it is a movie about women, but when people say “chick flick” I think of, like, The Notebook, and this is not The Notebook. I’ve never even seen The Notebook and still I feel entirely qualified to say that this movie is absolutely nothing like The Notebook.
And yet, maybe Tank Girl is what “chick flicks” should ideally be. It’s true that women move 99% of the action forward. While it’s not always the best parameter for measuring these things, rest assured that Tank Girl fires a huge missile right through the Bechdel Test within the first ten minutes. Set in a post-comet apocalyptic future of Earth, Rebecca (our titular -- hahahah -- heroine) is thrust into the film’s main conflict when her boyfriend is killed by stooges of Malcolm McDowell’s evil Water & Power corporation for stealing water, which is extremely hard to come by since, as TG tells us in the opening, it hasn’t rained in 11 years. McDowell portrays Kesslee, a totally one-dimensional Bad Guy who kills the underlings that disappoint him by stabbing them with a device that sucks all the water out of their bodies, and filters it to a refreshing clarity, which he then drinks.
In fact, all of the shallow stereotypical roles go to men, because fuck 'em. Valerie Solanas, misandry, and Tank Girl.
It is a movie about survival.
Lori Petty makes Tank Girl sexy, clever, and often powerfully annoying. She is never not sarcastic, and she can be insanely selfish. But she’s also a decent person trying to survive in a shit world. There’s a lot of layers here. Like a big perverted onion. When one of the Water & Power security dudes tries to force her into giving him a BJ, TG breaks his neck with her legs as though it’s the most normal thing in the world, and it’s hard not to appreciate such an intoxicating revenge fantasy, even when it’s terrifically unlikely.
As I noted above, most of the men in this movie are vicious assholes who want to prey on the women. Once incarcerated by the Evil Corporation Dudes, TG rescues the mousy, mumbling Jet Girl (brought to you by Naomi Watts, whom IMDB says is “ashamed” of this film, but which I really hope isn’t true) from the unwanted advances of a W&P stooge by calling Jet Girl her girlfriend and kissing her. The stooge recoils in disgust, and this is probably the most unrealistic moment in the whole film, and that’s saying something.
Given her rebellious streak, Malcom McDowell does not want to kill Tank Girl, but wants to “break” her -- again, for no other reason than he is a Bad Guy. He locks her in a freezer in a straitjacket, and when he returns expecting her to beg for mercy, she simply complains that, “It's really hard for me to play with myself in this thing.” Evil Corporate Mastermind Villain McDowell moves on to a more elaborate form of torture, in which he shoves Tank Girl into a pipe so narrow she can’t move, and locks her in. Even after that, upon her release, she continues to taunt him until he puts a gun to her head, at which point she says, “I win.”
Tank Girl sucks up adversity with such aplomb, it’s clear that this is a woman who has undergone some extreme trauma, her wisecracking quips and her wacky hair aside. This is not a film that actively encourages its viewer to relate to it on a deeper level, but it’s tough not to recognize the broader archetype playing out here -- a strong-willed, outspoken, unapologetic woman fights against the all-powerful Men Corp, which only wants to destroy her before it kills her. And here, unlike most versions of this story, she refuses to even play along. TG doesn’t capitulate, she doesn’t courageously struggle to go on, and she doesn’t ultimately summon her resources to overcome obstacles and actual literal torture to rise above and show all those bad evil men that she is just as good as they are.
Her cunning plan is to drop out of the whole charade and force her tormenters to simply murder her out of rage. She is not participating. It is not a story we see often, which may be why it has all these terrible reviews -- how do you parse something like that if you’ve never seen it before?
Twenty-seven wardrobe changes over 104 minutes.
That comes to Tank Girl changing into a new outfit roughly every four minutes. Let’s not lose sight of the intensive onslaught of mid-90s style that this movie really is. It might make you want to cut off some top-striped tube socks and wear them on your arms. The wardrobe is practically a character all on its own.
Jet Girl’s anti-makeover.
When we first meet Jet Girl, she is a deeply traumatized, wounded character who mumbles a lot and prefers to spend her time repairing and flying planes to dealing with people. Still, she’s not a full-on wallflower stereotype that she might have been in any other movie -- she can still stand up for herself, and she is extremely confident in her mechanical and flight expertise.
Nor does Jet Girl undergo the standard Ally-Sheedy-in-The-Breakfast-Club transformation from lumbering catepillar to beautiful butterfly. The changes in her character are subtle and ongoing throughout the film; she doesn’t just pop up at one point and take off her glasses and suddenly she’s wearing lipstick and a bustier and yay, she’s figured out how to be a hot chick like she’s supposed to! Yes, by the end, she exacts her revenge on her W&P tormentor while wearing a weird leather codpiece and some seriously ratted hair, but this was a cumulative change in her character as her experience has grown, and there is no suggestion that she has changed for any reason other than she herself wanted to.
The totally-of-its-era soundtrack.
When Tank Girl finally finds the only other member of her household who escaped the Water & Power attack, a young girl named Sam, she’s been forced into working at a sex club called Liquid Silver. Our introduction to this club happens in a scene that features strippers dancing to Bjork’s “Army of Me,” which is probably the most brilliant stripper song selection ever committed to film. And upon the successful rescue of Sam, Tank Girl punishes the club’s madam by forcing her into the world’s most awkward sing-along of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It,” although it shortly turns into a weird Busby Berkeley musical. In a sex club. Never let it be said that Tank Girl doesn’t have its own unique sense of humor.
That’s just one example of the crazy use of music in this film. There’s also offerings from L7, Belly, Portishead, Veruca Salt, and Hole, AKA all the bands I was most obsessed with in 1995. Iggy Pop appears not only on the soundtrack but also in the movie itself, as a gross pedophile named Rat Face.
Courtney Love put said soundtrack together, so it’s probably no surprise that it’s awesome.
Ultimately, Tank Girl and Jet Girl team up with the Rippers, the aforementioned human/kangaroo hybrid dudes who were engineered by the government as some kind of supersoldier (which makes sense because a kangaroo is the first animal I think of when I’m imagining genetically modifying people into killing machines, not like, a fucking tiger or a grizzly bear or a great white shark) to take down Water & Power’s huge evilness. But for me, the actual plot is the least interesting thing about this movie, when there’s so much else going on.
I can sum it up in an exchange between Tank Girl and Jet Girl, when the duo is forced to improvise during a reconnaissance mission to check out some Water & Power weapons. Confronted with dozens of male workers unloading the weapons crates, Tank Girl decides to dispense with the stealthy approach and just barge in and figure it out.
A concerned Jet stops her for a moment, saying with no small amount of astonishment, "What are you doing? Those guys will mangle you."
With a weary look, Tank Girl replies, "Jet, they're men."
And in the world of Tank Girl, if nowhere else, that doesn’t mean much at all.