Blu-Ray Review: “Tank Girl”

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  • Release Date: 11/19/2013
  • Running Time: 103 minutes
  • Written By: Tedi Sarafian
  • Directed By: Rachel Talalay
  • Starring: Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Malcolm McDowell, Ice-T, Don Harvey, Jeff Kober, Reg E. Cathey, Ann Cusack, Iggy Pop, Scott Coffey, Stacy Linn Ramsower, James Hong, Doug Jones, Richard Schiff
  • Story By: Alan Martin, Jamie Hewlett

Blu-Ray Review: “Tank Girl”

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Sometimes, I wonder if Shout Factory has some sort of mandate from a nefarious elemental being in which they have to balance the quality of their chosen movies for Blu-Ray productions exactly neutrally, resulting in a collection that features classics like CAT PEOPLE, John Carpenter’s PRINCE OF DARKNESS, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, THEY LIVE, and THE FOG, as well as bombs like THE SHADOW, SWAMP THING, CRIMEWAVE, and now TANK GIRL.

The beautiful thing is that each and every movie under their collection is enjoyable, misunderstood, or represents a fascinating point in cinematic history, including horror’s most notorious missteps, or hiccups. The worse the movie, or the most controversial and divisive, the more insightful the extras can be, as they investigates what went wrong, or what the creators have to say about it with the benefit of hindsight. Each Shout Factory DVD or Blu-Ray is a mini film class, filled to the brim with insider stories and savvy interviews with actors, writers, and directors that we’ve either forgotten about, or never forgotten.

Fans of cult British comics must have been pretty depressed in the 1990′s, thanks to Sly Stallone’s JUDGE DREDD and this film. While DREDD got its due last year in the great Karl Urban remake, I doubt we’ll be seeing an updated TANK GIRL any time soon. Director Rachel Talalay’s mission was to prove that a woman could anchor an action movie franchise, and while that’s certainly been proven (before and since, with ALIEN, TERMINATOR, TOMB RAIDER, HUNGER GAMES, etc.), TANK GIRL was a spectacular (and fascinating) misfire. A movie featuring a woman as the uncensored, strong, and insane Tank Girl is a tough sell, but that wasn’t what sunk the film.

TANK GIRL presents a vision of a dysopian future, where water has become scarce after a comet struck the Earth. It’s like MAD MAX, but also couldn’t be further from it. Meet Tank Girl (Lori Petty), a rebellious nutjob renegade fighting against the corrupt Water & Power, a corporation that controls 95% of the water in the world. Horror icon Malcolm McDowell plays the head of the organization, Kesslee, as he weaves a trap for Tank Girl and Jet Girl (Naomi Watts, before she was famous). From there, the movie unravels into nonsensical Cole Porter musical numbers, violence, and action that makes the term “over-the-top hijinx” tame. I might not have survived if I did drugs during this film.

Lori Petty is fearless in the movie, willing to do anything and everything, saying and doing whatever she wants in her cartoon girl voice. The movie hurts (what are with her anachronistic pop culture references?), but she IS undoubtedly Tank Girl. There’s a moment where she’s in a strait jacket, has teeth that can only be described as Urukhai braces, stunning, iridescent blue eyes, pale skin and ratty hair, and looks up at Malcolm McDowell and the audience and says: “It’s… really… hard for me… to play with myself in this thing.” This moment delivers sheer terror, and makes you wonder why Lori Petty hasn’t snagged a spot in Ryan Murphy’s AMERICAN HORROR STORY yet. She’d be perfect.

This movie not only is riddled with bullets, crazy, and wardrobe changes: it has an Iggy Pop cameo, features Doug Jones as an additional ripper (of course!), James Hong’s sprinkled in as a crackpot cybernetic surgeon, and it even has WEST WING star Richard Schiff as a “Trooper in Trench”.

It’s stunning to see a black-haired Naomi Watts in Harry Potter glasses, talking in her native Aussie accent, as Jet Girl, Tank Girl’s friend and sidekick who blossoms over the course of the film. It’s a testament to Watts’ starpower and future career as a Hollywood stud that she could manage to be appealing in a heaving mass of filth.

There are several things that really work. I love the music, the animated comic opening, and the comic sequences that intercut the action. This is when the irreverent structure truly works. Kesslee’s weapon of choice, essentially water filter of death that absorbs all the moisture from a human’s body (a water extractor), is brilliant.

There’s flashes of Madonna, BEETLEJUICE, punk, and ridiculous. There’s no doubt in my mind that Gwen Stefani looked to Lori Petty in this film for fashion advice. The sheer number of hairstyles, costume changes, and wardrobe tweaks have to be some sort of record. Oscar-nominated costume designer Arianne Phillips (W.E., WALK THE LINE) was busy. It’s no surprise that she’s Madonna’s personal stylist. Say what you want about this movie, but Talalay, Petty, and company WENT FOR IT. This movie is so far outside the box that they practically invented an entirely new shape to add to the geometric rubric.

The set comes with several bonus features, including a theatrical trailer, a “vintage” featurette, three interviews, and a jam-packed commentary with Lori Petty and Rachel Talalay. The trailer is stunning in that it features so many climactic moments from the film, and is impressive in that it makes the movie look like something other than the worst.

The 5 minute vintage featurette is a gem, featuring behind-the-scenes footage from filming, and classic soundbites from Malcolm McDowell (who compares Kesslee to Hitler) and Ice-T, who struggles to describe what a Ripper is. Stan Winston (TERMINATOR, JURASSIC PARK and PREDATOR) is one of the cinematic Gods that Monster Kids will always worship, but… TANK GIRL isn’t his studios’ finest hour. He designed the Rippers, a Kangaroo/man hybrid that resemble John Candy’s Barf in SPACEBALLS. In this clip, Winston reveals his excitement for the “amazing creature,” pimping it as something we’ve never seen before. That’s certainly true. We see the makeup application process and get an idea for how hot and insufferable it was under all that makeup for the actors (Ice-T: “People are dying inside of those suits”). I love seeing these featurettes that happened before the film came out, as it reveals the kind of excitement and optimism you’d never normally associate with TANK GIRL.

The big draw likely will be the more than 20 minute long interview (“Baseball, Tanks & Bad Tattoos…”) with star Lori Petty, as animated and compelling as ever. It basically acts an introspective of her entire career, from when she realized she wanted to be an entertainer (after discovering the Jackson 5 cartoon despite overbearing and sheltered parents in the midwest) to how appreciative of her fans and her film career she is. She’s refreshingly honest and never boring, as she talks about BATES MOTEL TV movie that launched her career (calling her performance “horrible”) and how she was beheaded in FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES (“I do really important work,” she quips). She addresses POINT BREAK, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (did you know Lori Petty has thrown the ceremonial first pitch at EVERY baseball stadium? Her Tommy Lasorda story is incredible), her familiarity (or lack thereof) with the TANK GIRL comics, the cast, and how she said yes to everything (from costumes to stunts) and had so much fun making the film.

The best part comes when Petty describes Tank Girl as an “every woman,” how she don’t give a %^#*, and is funny/sexy. She expresses regret about its R rating, but not in how you’d expect. She believes it was only R because it was a woman killing people, and if she knew it was going to be R, she would’ve done the whole movie. For most actors, you’d call her bluff. But I have no doubt Petty would’ve done exactly that.

Even after a hot British girl originally got cast in TANK GIRL, Lori Petty knew she’d get the role immediately after reading the script (beating out the likes of Madonna and Courtney Love, who became a music adviser, for the part).

In “Too Hip For Spielberg…” we hear the other side of the story from director Rachel Talalay. Apparently the actress (unnamed, so clearly someone of importance, or not a someone at all) refused to cut her hair for the role… obviously an impossibility to pull off Tank Girl. Talalay has gone on to a successful TV directing career, with STEPHEN KING’S DEAD ZONE, ALLY MCBEAL and several others on her impressive resume. Her two big stories come from her experiences pitching the project to studio execs. She went to Jim Cameron’s company, knowing all the great things he’s done for women in acting and in Hollywood, and was met with the response that they already had a female action movie in production (JOAN OF ARC). I guess that was enough?

The other came when she arrived at Amblin, Steven Spielberg’s company, where she met an executive who just GOT it, but who’s response was priceless: “we’re pleased you think were hip enough, but we’re not.” This inspired the fun mantra “Too Hip For Spielberg.”

In both interviews, Petty and Talalay intimate that the film was ahead of its time (that Petty was destined to always be 10 years ahead, opening doors for others), but they seem ignorant of the movie’s clear failings and indecipherable “plot.” There’s a brilliance in the kernel of the idea of TANK GIRL: its this irreverent figure fighting The Man in a male-dominated society, but the film mostly doesn’t land that punch.

The other big name involved in the film was heretofore unmentioned production designer Catherine Hardwicke, who parlayed her career as a production designer into a directing career that includes THIRTEEN and of course, TWILIGHT. In “Creative Chaos: Creating the World Of Tank Girl,” she talked about the elaborate sets, the tanks, and her process of securing the job.

As you can tell, the extras are stacked with increasing tidbits, head-scratching analysis, and cool stories from the folks behind TANK GIRL, as I just scratched the surface. You can hate the movie (and you very likely do/will), but as always, SHOUT FACTORY has succeeded in crafting an intelligent and gripping set of extras, with a sparkling transfer of the film.

Order the Collector’s Edition of TANK GIRL, coming 11/19, on Shout Factory today.

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