Insomniac Movie Theater: Tank Girl

by Trevan McGee on September 16, 2010

in Columns,Insomniac Movie Theater

Today’s entry has the dubious honor of being the first movie I had to watch in two parts and in the process of doing so, I learned what element of a bad movie topples my threshold. I have seen worse movies during my run on Insomniac Movie Theater, but none of them so far were as aggressively bad and campy as 1995’s “Tank Girl.”

Put simply, “Tank Girl” is a time capsule of everything that was wrong with the alternative movement and Generation X, who embraced it. It features a soundtrack indicative of the time (and buried in the movie’s horrible sound mix), a one-off actress that exudes enough quirky, unhinged energy for three people–and it uses enough jump cuts and rapid-fire edits to make even the most deluded 90s music-video aficionado motion sick. The title sequence is a perfect example of this:

In case you missed it during that endless montage of comic-book images and a half-baked version of “Girl U Want,” Lori Petty stars as the titular hero. Petty is one of five people in the entire world that could accurately be described as “plucky.” (The other four being Katie Couric, Richard Simmons, Kerri Strug, and Dame Edna.)

Petty is so spunky, so unbelievably quirky, it is intolerable. The degree to which director Rachel Talalay and Petty go to cram the character’s alternativeness down the audience’s throat is remarkable. Whats more, it backfires. Instead of her performance being fun and entertaining, Petty instead comes off as strained and awkward and like the rest of the movie, her performance doesn’t age well.

But that’s the problem with the movie overall and what drove me to break viewing it into two parts: It’s dated, but not lovingly nostalgic or likable. The resultant movie 15 years later is more uncomfortable and abrasive than anything else. It’s not even engagingly bad like “Tarzan: The Ape Man” or “Barbarella.” It’s just a string of post-grunge aggression, in-your-face faux individuality, and the other pissy emotions that lingered in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s suicide and the first Bush administration.

By trying to adapt an alternative indie comic that features a female protagonist that is unconventionally drawn and sexually ambiguous into a movie that is cut to ribbons, features comically exaggerated characters, and a music-of-the-moment soundtrack, the end product is too spot-on. It was already dated by the time it was released.

Or maybe it’s just bad. Based on the song-and-dance scene embedded below, it’s the latter.

When “Tank Girl” isn’t using mini-montages of seemingly found footage to transition from one scene to another, it’s using animated vignettes to move the story along and make an already rushed movie even more so.

See how efficient that was?

Finally, it’s impossible to talk about the movie without mentioning the Rippers. Designed by special-effects guru Stan Winston, the Rippers are a team of super soldiers that had their DNA merged with a kangaroo’s. The end result being an excuse for a series of animal jokes, howling jokes, and dick jokes. Worse yet, Ice-T plays one of them. Check this out:

He is right. It is pathetic. At the time, “Tank Girl” spawned a small cult following and expanded the comic’s audience, even though it doesn’t follow the comic in any discernible way. Now it’s dated to the point of awkwardness. On top of that, “Tank Girl” is so scattershot and jump-cut heavy, it’s difficult to follow, making the entire experience grating and annoying. Especially late at night.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Jay October 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm

The first I viewed this movie was last night on “This” network. It intrigued me, though it was AWEFUL. I kept nodding my head while reading this review, it seemed to encompass everything I felt was wrong with the movie. The reason it intrigued me was because I felt like it had a plot and characters with potential for an entertaining movie worthy of the cult following. I really wish they would remake it. With some better acting, effects and a half decent script I could see this go in another direction. Especially if they modernized it a bit.

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