We all have certain films that are most people do not like, but for some reason strike our fancy. Some of them are ones no one else has heard of or seen. I call them guilty pleasures. One of these for me is Bulletproof Monk (2003). I reviewed that one already, but as a refresher, one of the factors in why it will always be near and dear to my heart is because of the time it came out and what I was doing. It evokes memories of my first time taking kung fu lessons, and all the hours I spent with my teacher. Today’s film, Tank Girl (1995), is a little more difficult for me to pin down as to why I like it. As will become apparent, particularly if you have been following along with my reviews, I am not a part of any of the sub-cultures represented. I do have somewhat of a rebellious streak in me, which I am sure is stereotypically difficult for many of you to understand coming from a staunch Catholic. I admit, this is a weird one. Nonetheless, I cannot deny my enjoyment every time I watch it.
Set twelve years from now, Tank Girl introduces us to a post-apocalyptic Earth where a comet-strike dried up all the above ground water. This is revealed through the narration of the title girl Rebecca (Lori Petty). With a resource so precious as water, which humans and every other living thing on this needs to survive, anyone who controls its supply can reign supreme. Enter an evil corporation called Water and Power (really hitting it on the nose, I know), headed by a megalomaniac named Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell). He is “megalo” because of the extreme reach of his company, and a “maniac” because he has developed a way of sucking all the moisture from living victims. After the plastic bottle that has been jammed into the torsos of recalcitrant employees is filled, he removes it from the desiccated corpse and drinks in front of his other subordinates. This motivates them to locate the base from which Rebecca and her fellow hippie/rebel friends are hiding. “Base” might be the wrong word. It is a house for what is essentially a commune. Rebecca lives there with her boyfriend, a few other adults, and some children, the principle of which is Sam (Stacy Linn Ramsowner). Their only real crime is using water without the permission of Water and Power. Apparently, the company does not take too kindly to this because they send a military unit to kill everyone in the compound. Rebecca is captured, Sam is sold into slavery, and everyone else dies. Rebecca is sent to work in the mines, after a defiant interview with Kesslee. While there, she befriends a fellow inmate, Jet Girl (Naomi Watts), who is being bullied and sexually harassed by Kesslee’s right-hand man, Sergeant Small (Don Harvey). She is timid, so she is not able to put up much of a fight. Thus, she is thankful when the more forward Rebecca comes to her rescue. Regardless, it seems like Water and Power is on the cusp of total dominance. There is only one roadblock: a collection of half kangaroo/half man super soldiers (I told you this is a weird one) known as the Rippers. They swiftly attack many Water and Power shipments and installations, and disappear just as quickly. When Kesslee believes he has found a passageway to their underground headquarters, he sends Tank Girl out under armed guard to ascertain its existence. The Rippers, though, spring their own trap, killing all the soldiers, maiming Kesslee, but leaving Rebecca alive. Showing up after the carnage is Jet Girl, having stolen one of Water and Power’s flying vehicles and effecting her escape. She gives Rebecca control of a Water and Power tank, and now Tank and Jet are a team. Each of them also modifies their title vehicles to fit their personalities. The tank is a riot of punk culture and colors, and matches its owner’s eccentricities. The jet shows a woman coming out of her shell, if that makes any sense. Together, their first mission is to attempt to rescue Sam from child prostitution at the Liquid Silver Club. They almost succeed, but are thwarted once more by Water and Power. Feeling like they will need more, er, manpower to get Sam back this time, they turn to the Rippers. After proving that they are not Water and Power spies by helping to raid a shipment, the Rippers charge into corporate headquarters despite it being an obvious trap. This is due to Kesslee sabotaging Rebecca with hidden microphones, thus knowing all her moves. Even so, they are able to overcome the odds thanks to the strength of the Rippers and the determination of Jet and Rebecca. Jet Girl finally dispatches her former tormentor in Sergeant Small, as does Rebecca with Kesslee. And everyone seemingly lives happily ever after.
I told you Tank Girl was a bit odd. It mixes in animation and live action, not to mention an eclectic selection of music, that produces a unique movie watching experience. However, the strangest moment comes when Rebecca and Jet Girl go to take Sam from Liquid Silver. After locating the young girl, on their way out they decide to force the establishment’s hostess, Dr. Nikita (Roz Witt), to sing Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It.” After a few bars, Rebecca interjects and soon it becomes a full-on musical number, complete with dance choreography. In the midst of all this, Rebecca loses track of Sam, and this is how she is recaptured by Water and Power. In one sense, it fits with anything else that goes on in the film. The imagination it takes to put together alternative culture with the military industrial complex is, if nothing else, quite creative. At the same time, it is a little difficult to understand how somebody who is so fixated on rescuing a girl can let herself be so distracted. At the end of the day, you just have to shrug your shoulders and accept it as crazy as the rest of the material.
Another out-of-the-ordinary feature of Tank Girl are the Rippers. I do not know about you, but when I think super-soldier, kangaroos are a little low on the list of animals I would conjure to combine with a human. This is not meant as a slight against the famous marsupials, and you can find plenty of pictures on the internet of them showing off a musculature to rival the most ardent bodybuilder. They are also the only set of characters you see praying in the movie. Granted, their prayer involves dancing to some strange, industrial-techno music, but they call it praying all the same. When asked what they are doing, they say that they are praying to “the spirit of freedom.” There is a great praise and worship song called “Where the Spirit of the Lord Is,” which also makes up part its chorus. The other part, which completes the sentiment in the title, is “there is freedom.” It is a Protestant song, originally performed by the Australian mega-Christian group Hillsong United. If you are familiar with the genre, you know that they have a lot of hits. If you watch their video on YouTube, and you know the scene where you see the Rippers pray, you may notice some similarities. Most of what the Rippers do involves swaying their arms and hips low to the ground, but occasionally they raise their arms in worship. This is a common pose of worship among Christians, and Catholics are included in this in certain moments. It is a little bit like how toddlers beckon their parents to pick them up and hold them in a loving embrace. I am certain that is not what the film was going for, but the connection can be made.
I did not even mention that Ice-T is in Tank Girl as T-Saint, the no-nonsense member of the Rippers. When asked why he is so serious, he says that he was once a cop. Since he has spent the last twenty-one years playing Detective Odafin Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, I suppose this makes some sense. Little else does in the movie, which is why I do not give it a full recommendation. If you are in the mood for something weird, though, I can think of few weirder examples.