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‘Tank Girl’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 31, 1995

"Tank Girl" is a "Modesty Blaise" for the '90s; both emerged from cult comicdom, but where Blaise was a sexy super-agent in the James Bond mold, Tank Girl is a sassy, spiky-haired, post-punk slacker heroine. Created in 1988 by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, Tank Girl is clearly a child of the MTV Generation: She has a short attention span and attitude to burn.

In making the transition from small page to big screen, "Tank Girl" gains very little and gives up nothing. Working from a generally faithful script by Teri Sarafian, director Rachel Talalay opts for an approach that emphasizes surface and flash at the expense of depth and coherence -- much like its source. The result is a bracing film that's halfway between a string of MTV videos (Courtney Love put together the edgy soundtrack) and some of that network's over-the-top cartoons. In fact, "Tank Girl" incorporates several animated sequences by Mike Smith ("Natural Born Killers" and MTV's "Liquid Television") and some commentary panels by Hewlett.

However, it's Lori Petty who must carry "Tank Girl," and she's a logical choice since she's a dead ringer for the comic character. A walking anti-fashion statement, Petty's Tank Girl is an amoral spunk-rock rebel trying to survive in post-cataclysm 2033. Seems a comet has hit Earth and rendered everything suspiciously Mad Max-like, only this time water, not gas, is the precious commodity. Water is power.

Which explains the Water and Power Company and its sadistic boss, Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell, who does evil so well). When Kesslee kills, he does so by stabbing people in the back with a bottle that extracts his victims' water contents. When he captures Tank Girl -- she's been pirating water -- he puts her to work digging up dirt in a dusty underground excavation.

In escaping, Tank Girl teams up with Jet Girl (Naomi Watts); their names come from the vehicles they steal and quickly customize. They also team up with a motley crew of Rippers, half-man, half-kangaroo mutants bred for a failed Special Forces (the original comic was set in Australia). Special Farces is more like it, though, since the battling Rippers turn out to be bohemians dedicated to sex, poetry and partying. Thanks to wonderfully expressive makeup by Stan Winston, they are distinct individuals, particularly Ice-T's T-Saint and Jeff Kober's befuddled Bogga.

Events unfold quickly -- and often incoherently -- until the inevitable showdown pits Tank Girl and the Rippers against the increasingly cyber-optic Kesslee. Along the way there are some curious detours, notably a stopover at a bordello that quickly devolves into a bawdy Busby Berkeley-style production of Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" led by the madam (an unbilled Ann Magnuson) and Tank Girl.

Director Talalay and Petty clearly intended to have fun with this project, which is cluttered with pop culture allusions. The punk-apocalypse costumes by Arianna Phillips and the rapid-fire editing by James Symons contribute to the film's dizzying pace. As for the pulsating soundtrack, it's much like Courtney Love herself -- interesting but annoying. "Tank Girl" may fly right past those unused to a frenetic MTV pace, but it does its makers justice.

"Tank Girl" is rated R for language.

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