Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tank Girl

The Action Mutant…
isn’t afraid to “tank” it at the box office (or anywhere else for that matter!).

Tank Girl

review by Joe Burrows

In somewhat continuing from last review, the success of The Dark Knight ($363.7 million and growing) has had all kinds of news media trumpeting that comic book films are all the rage lately. A look at the top 50 films in each year this decade proves the meteoric rise:

8. X-Men ($157.3 million)

1. Spider-Man ($403.7 million)
31. Blade II ($82.3 million)

6. X-2: X-Men United ($214.9 million)
14. Hulk ($132.2 million)
27. Daredevil ($102.5 million)
44. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen ($66.5 million)

1. Spider-Man 2 ($373.6 million)
49. Hellboy ($59.6 million)

8. Batman Begins ($205.3 million)
13. Fantastic Four ($154.7 million)
29. Constantine ($76 million)
32. Sin City ($74.1 million)

4. X-Men: The Last Stand ($234.4 million)
5. Superman Returns ($200.1 million)
36. V for Vendetta ($70.5 million)

1. Spider-Man 3 ($336.5 million)
10. 300 ($210.6 million)
18. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer ($131.9 million)
27. Ghost Rider ($115.8 million)
46. TMNT ($54.1 million)

2008 (as of 8/4/08):
1. The Dark Knight ($394.9 million and counting)
2. Iron Man ($315.7 million and counting)
10. The Incredible Hulk ($133.3 million and counting)
11. Wanted ($131.3 million and counting)
23. Hellboy II: The Golden Army ($71.3 million and counting)

Now, aside from an inconsistent start to the decade and a bit of a falloff in ’06, the comic book genre has been very good to studios. Stark contrast to the 90s, where comic book films (aside from the Batman series before it got Schumachered) were as dead as the horror genre before Scream hit the theaters. Several of the projects you see on the list above were in development hell & kicked about for years, with filmmakers being told things like “The climate’s just not right for comic book adaptations right now. Tom Green looks like a more stable choice for our box office future.” For every successful one, there were at several more that were disappointing. Captain America. The Rocketeer. The Shadow. The Phantom. Oh, and Tank Girl. It’s arguable to say whether TG would have been a box office success today but it’s certain that its concepts were ten years ahead of its time. And I should trademark the term “Schumachered”. Perhaps not though; I certainly don’t want to have to use it often.

The Plot, as it was:
Lori Petty (Point Break) plays Rebecca Buck aka “Tank Girl”, a sassy, hypersexual, punkish rebel that heads up a group of outlaws that obtain water (which is scarce in the film’s post-apocalyptic setting) from an underground well. The Water & Power company, led by megalomaniacal Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell), doesn’t take kindly to their monopoly being intruded on so they arrive at the house and murder everyone, as well as kidnap Rebecca. After Rebecca and slave mechanic Jet (Naomi Watts) escape the W&P compound, the two trick out a stolen tank and plan to take down the company. Both are also aided by the Rippers, a gang of Kangaroo/Human hybrids that want to end W&P’s water siphoning ring as well.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
When scientists reference that certain video games & cartoons cause children to contract seizures, they should have thrown in Tank Girl into their argument. Throw is exactly what director Rachel Talalay does with the many visual concepts the film sports; she throws in as many as possible so that something always seems to be going on. The problem is that this strategy only accentuates the flick’s lack of focus. Now, I don’t always mind films that come off more like “experiments”. And there are certainly things in the film that just seem to pop out from nowhere (the Cole Porter number at the dance club being the prime example). However, these elements become fewer and far between as the film rolls along and it becomes apparent the anarchic energy & sharper tone (that the comic it’s based on possesses) won’t show up. It comes off more like a “wink and don’t tell” like attitude and the animated segues (the best part of the entire thing) convey the edginess that isn’t sustained throughout. There is no fault from the performers here, as Petty is spot on in the lead. Looking like Gwen Stefani (pre-Tragic Kingdom era) and crossing a personality of Bugs Bunny and a punk rock Lolita, Petty is unconventional throughout & when the film goes the opposite way in the last third. However, her character wanes between resourceful and dim, only so the story can advance along. McDowell plays a variation of the same effete psychopath he’s been typecast as since A Clockwork Orange and even though we’ve all seen it before, you can’t help but grin once or twice at how deliciously evil he is. Unfortunately, Uncle Malcolm isn’t in this very much and by the time Tank & Jet meet the Rippers (Ice-T, Jeff Kober and Reg E. Cathey, amongst others, in elaborate Stan Winston makeup effects), you’re just kind of waiting for it to end. It may be due to the dreaded “studio interference” that Talalay claims she experienced when making Tank Girl. While the film is supposed to be frenetic and colorful, it does come off at times as something that has been hacked away with a chainsaw. Hindsight is 20/20 as to whether Tank Girl would have been better if left to its original version but what is left is a fitfully cheerful, slightly bent and wholly inconsistent tale.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Richard Schiff makes his second appearance in this section (Rapid Fire being the first), playing “Trooper in Trench”.
- Bongwater/Vulcan Death Grip frontwoman Ann Magnuson is uncredited as “The Madam”.
- Courtney Love was the music consultant for the film, going under Courtney Love Cobain. I kinda threw up in my mouth a little bit when I read that.

Body Count/Violence: 46 (plus a buffalo). There is very little blood here, despite the action dominating quite a few scenes. Kesslee uses a suction device that he plunges into people’s backs and extracts their blood and water from their bodies. There is lots of (mostly bloodless) shooting, fights, explosions, a guy ran over by a truck, walking on glass (again, no blood…huh?), after the fact dismemberment and broken necks. Those expecting a flick high on carnage may be disappointed.

Sexuality/Nudity: Thankfully, this film acts as an excuse to get Lori Petty in a lot of sexy, punky outfits, which usually consist of some sort of lingerie, stockings or tight t-shirts. She kisses Watts at one point but it’s nothing to lose sleep over, as the overview of the scene is meant to be comical. There are some scantly clad burlesque dancers in the Cole Porter number and Tank and Booga (Kober) are shown in bed together (though that was toned down by MGM, despite the fact there wasn’t much to it to begin with).

Language/Dialogue: The F-stick is only dropped once and Tank does express some sexual dialogue at times. The film is a very mild R, though (especially considering the genre).

How bad was it?:
Critics usually praised its different look but little else, stating it was all mixed up and not real sharp & to the point. Some were discouraged that it lacked that vicious edge that Jamie Hewlett & Alan Martin’s comic source employed. Yet others, like Ebert, claimed it was all energy and little substance, which became too much after a while.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
The word “Tank” was certainly appropriate with Tank Girl, as it joined Showgirls in MGM’s 1-2 punch of disappointments for 1995 (good thing Goldeneye and Get Shorty were on MGM’s bill, too!). Filmed on a $25 million budget, it premiered on 3/31/95 and thudded to 10th place with $2 million (though it was only in a little over than half of the number of theaters the #1 debut film Tommy Boy was in). It then tumbled to 15th the next weekend, taking in a paltry $700,428 and finishing up soon afterwards with a final gross of $4.1 million. Quite a cult following has developed for the film since its initial release & has led to new fans of the comic that inspired it.

Film: **1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ***1/2/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.

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