Tank Girl (1995)
Directed by Rachel Talalay

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * * ½

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Some time in the near future, after the world has been devastated by the impact of a comet, rain no longer falls and virtually all water, at least in the area where this story is set, is controlled by a despotic corporation, Water and Power, which is headed by the evil Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell). His rule is, however, threatened after he sets out to liquidate a group of water thieves and angers one of their number, Tank Girl (Lori Petty). Kesslee does try to convince her to join with him, upon learning that she killed eight of his soldiers, but she, of course, refuses his offer. Tank Girl is then imprisoned, befriends a fellow slave, the future Jet Girl (Naomi Watts), escapes, raids a brothel to find a young girl with whom she had previously lived, and joins a gang of genetically altered intelligent kangaroos called Rippers who are fighting a guerrilla war against Kesslee.

While I certainly would not claim that Rachel Talalay's Tank Girl, which is based on Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett's comics, is a great film, it is, nonetheless, wonderfully entertaining. It is colorful, frenetic, funny, and sometimes genuinely exciting.


For one thing, visually, Tank Girl is a hoot. I will admit that many of the sets and costumes are forgettable, and that the Rippers can be annoyingly cute. Nevertheless, there is so much else in the film to marvel at that these failings are fairly insignificant. Tank Girl herself is always fun to look at, with her endlessly changing neo-punk outfits and half-shaved head crowned with various wild hairdos. A number of the sets, like the vast tacky brothel the protagonist visits and her original hideout (that looks like a rickety house from a cartoon), are delightful and original. So are some of the props, such as Tank Girl's garish tank, which is painted with goofy patterns, has a chubby, toothy, beanie wearing monster for a figurehead , and is decorated with a hanging ball adorned with the face of Chairman Mao. A list of these oddities could go on and on, but it should suffice to say that what makes all of them work, including even the less well realized items, is that they are so colorful and so outrageous that they give the movie the feel of a comic book.

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Happily, this feeling is enhanced by yet other elements. For example, the live action scenes that make up the bulk of the movie are frequently intercut with still images exactly like those found in a comic book and with brief animated sequences. There is hardly a moment when the viewer is likely to be bored by the film's look. The director deserves real credit for having preserved the comic book feel.


Fortunately, the appealing images that Talalay throws upon the screen are complemented by her story telling. Tank Girl might not be a great epic, but it is a fun yarn. The eponymous heroine, who enters the movie upon the back of a carabao while she scavenges the desert for a gift for her boyfriend (with whom she will shortly be engaging in some kinky S & M role-playing), proceeds to goof around, kill numerous enemy soldiers, even when bound and helpless, and remain continuously defiant. She makes constant sarcastic remarks, breaks one man's neck (instead of fellating him as she had said she would), engages in a lesbian act with a fellow prisoner (Jet Girl), and more. At one point, while in the brothel mentioned above, she even organizes an impromptu (and slightly raunchy) Busby Berkeley inspired musical number featuring armies of nearly naked prostitutes wearing platinum wigs. I cannot imagine how any viewer with any appreciation of camp could fail to be delighted with Talalay's story.


I should add that the actors do generally acquit themselves well. Ms Petty is a joy as the raucous, goofy heroine. Naomi Watts reveals Jet Girl's shyness and bravery, and Malcolm McDowell is consistently amusing as the psychopathic, sadomasochistic, and eventually half-mechanical Kesslee. Regrettably, a few of the supporting players, especially those portraying the Rippers, are less satisfactory. In fact, a number of them are so cloying they do detract from the film's enjoyableness.


Whatever its shortcomings, Tank Girl is, nonetheless, a great deal of fun. It really is one of the most entertaining films I have recently encountered.

Review by Keith Allen

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