Tank Girl (1995)

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Rachel Talalay directs Lori Petty, Naomi Watts and Malcolm McDowell in this post apocalyptic adventure film based on the cult British independent comic. 

Unambitious anarchy. I used to own Tank Girl on VHS. As a teenager I enjoyed its scrappy energy. I was aware but not in love with the source material. And I also knew about its troubled production process. Various sequences were not filmed or cut out so that the comic’s original creator had to animate sequences to fill in the blanks… including the ending. These moments actually work really well, they fit the spirit of the endeavour and actual add a little extra mature edge to the slightly softened bite of the satire. Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin were openly vocal about the finished product despite being active participants in the process.  I always took umbrage at Jamie Hewlett’s snide comments in Empire on release about a test screening that resulted in dildos and burps being cut out. “It’s ridiculous having a bunch of snotty little 14-year-olds deciding how a film should be made. They were probably just snogging their bird or pulling each others’ hair throughout the whole thing” Yeah, fair enough. But who was this film for -butchered compromise or artist’s unadulterated vision – if not teenagers? It is a mid level action comedy about an immature girl driving a graffitied tank through desert populated by stoners and stoner kangaroos. Did you think massive prosthetic cocks were going to be part of the marketing campaign? Was he hoping for Oscars? Even on its best day, Tank Girl was made for the youth market. It is a rebellion flick with a day-glo colour palette. How would he have improved it? “The script was lousy,” Hewlett recalled, “me and Alan kept rewriting it and putting Grange Hill jokes and Benny Hill jokes in, and they obviously weren’t getting it.” Of course not… as those were limited and dated references even back in 1995. Homage to 70s sitcoms and 80s parochial kids shows would have really sunk what little wit the wacky, OTT shenanigans did retain. The film already is a dog’s dinner. Jokes rarely land, action never thrills. It is edited within an inch of its life. It feels like an overlong trailer for an actual film rather than a narrative itself. But Petty, Watts and McDowell all bravely go big rather than go home. The imagery taken out of context is a rich junkyard. The soundtrack is a belter. Stan Winston’s Ripper make up design is beautiful. It is silly. It is rubbish. Just not very entertaining. Not even misplaced nostalgia for when I was a “snotty little 14-year-old” can save it now I’m middle aged. And yeah, Tank Girl herself is chaotic and combative enough to be considered a feminist action hero. But imagine if they actually gave her some obstacles to overcome… then she’d have been a feminist action hero worth remembering.

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