How do you defend a movie you like and enjoy when you know that outside of that subjective response, the film is by all accounts laughably bad and terrible? Well, for anyone who's been following my reviews over the years, then it comes as no surprise it's what I do. I have a penchant for bad movies — it's my thing, my forte, my foible and my métier, if you will. I always try to find value in the worst while acknowledging it failures because I want to appreciate what a film tries to accomplish as a piece of entertainment. And so the best approach I've found when watching a bad movie is to live comfortably within the middle ground. Such is the case in Rachel Talalay's preposterously stupid and awful 'Tank Girl.'
Knowing little about the British comic book created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin on which Tedi Sarafian's script is loosely based on — though I was vaguely familiar the artwork — I saw the movie in theaters with low expectations and walked out mildly amused. What I remember liking, and still do to some extent, is Talalay's attempt to recreate the feel and look of a comic, an effort to make a literal translation of its style, composition, texture and mien. Even before Joel Schumacher humiliated Batman with a similar endeavor, the John Waters-producer-turned-director used every filmmaking technique available and delivers an adaptation that arguably lives up to its source by being a direct imitation of it.
Given the eponymous character and the comic's primary goal, Talalay's chaotic, gonzo approach to the material complements its intentions. This is a punk-rock interpretation — or a completely bonkers reinterpretation if you prefer — of the apocalypse: what if the miserable, anarchic future depicted in the 'Mad Max' films were occupied by disorderly, ungovernable punkers. For all its terribleness, 'Tank Girl' at least captures this very attitude and expresses the idealism of unruly freedom through the most absurd, ironic superhero imaginable. And Lori Petty does the character justice, not only by looking like Rebecca Buck but also fully embracing all her insolent, sardonic, churlish and cynical quirkiness and turning her into a winning on-screen presence.
Sadly, these few positives which make the movie for me tolerable and watchable are, in all honesty, negated by the production's several other flaws. For one, the story, which according to creators Hewlett and Martin is nothing like they envisioned an adaptation to be, is simply too ridiculous and cartoonish in its scope with minimal characterization and little reason to care for anyone in particular. There's never a doubt our heroine will come out on top or that she's ever in real mortal danger, all the while continuing in the sort of bigmouth, brash attitude expected of her. Basically, there's almost no reason to think she has a worthy opponent capable of defeating her. Tank Girl always gets her way.
Malcolm McDowell is essentially doing a nastier, grumpier version of himself, delivering lines with a tight scowl like it's second nature, while Naomi Watts is really just a cute-faced sidekick pretending to look smart because otherwise, she adds nothing to the storyline. While advertising an eventual showdown with a predictable outcome, the plot introduces the mutant kangaroos (Ice-T, Jeff Kober, Reg E. Cathey and Scott Coffey) as the comic relief in a movie that is already one big, fat and ultimately (intentionally) pointless farce, severely bogging down the pace. How quickly Tank Girl forgets about saving Sam (Stacy Linn Ramsower) from the clutches of McDowell when falling in love with a stoner mutant.
And yet, in spite of its glaringly obvious faults, I like the absurdist, anarchist and balls-to-the-wall outlandish attitude of Rachel Talalay's 'Tank Girl.' Its unconventional, very self-aware and highly subjective style is the film's lasting charm — a freakish, punk-rock haughtiness toward filmmaking itself. It's only too bad the colorful, animated package comes wrapped in unattractive paper that screams to be pointed out and called for what it is. And yet again, the movie has grown in stature and popularity over the years to become a cult favorite, admired just enough to be repeatedly released on home video. Like the character herself, 'Tank Girl' demands to be the center of attention and refuses for nothing less.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'Tank Girl' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack dubbed a "Collector's Edition." The Region A locked, BD50 disc sits opposite a DVD-9 inside a blue, eco-elite case with reversible cover art. At startup, the disc goes straight to an animated menu with a smaller screen in the center showing full-motion clips and options along the bottom.
'Tank Girl' head-slams her way unto Blu-ray with a generally pleasing and sometimes excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, but she shows a few minor dints and dents in her armor. For the most part, the picture is nicely detailed with several shockingly good moments that reveal lifelike textures in faces and sharp fine lines in clothing, buildings and in the makeup of the mutant kangaroos. But for all the great scenes, there are some with poor resolution and noticeably softer moments as well. While composite shots and special effects can be forgiven, the other dialogue-driven scenes can't. Thankfully, contrast is stable and crisp though a few highlights tend to run a smidge hot, and black levels are accurately rendered. Being a sci-fi comedy based on a comic book, the color palette is loud and garish with primaries looking especially vibrant and animated. All in all, it's a great high-def transfer but minor troubled spots.
Next, Tank Girl barrels her way to Blu-ray in her usual loud and vulgar fashion with this surprisingly good DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Also per usual, Shout! offers our apocalyptic punk heroine in two listening options, and in this instance, she rocks the house with five channels blasting away and that one lonely, little .1 kicking the bass real hard. In fact, the low-end is quite punchy and hard-hitting, more so than I ever remember it being. Nevertheless, it delivers some serious oomph to the action, explosions, music and those smooching, lovey-dovey scenes between human and kangaroo.
As for the rest, imaging is wide and expansive with excellent channel separation and clear, intelligible vocals in the center. Dynamic range is detailed with great clarity in the upper frequencies, broadening the soundstage nicely. The lossless mix also exhibits plenty of good, discrete activity in the rears, expanding the soundfield to satisfying effect. During the many action sequences, a variety of sounds fill the room with screams, bullets, debris and all sort of echoes while the jet and tank move from the front to the back and vice versa with flawless panning. Bing, bang, boom screams this enjoyable high-rez track of the cult favorite.
In spite of its various faults, poor box-office returns, and its overall badness, Rachel Talalay's 'Tank Girl' has grown in stature to become a popular cult favorite. Thanks in large part to Lori Petty's performance as the eponymous character and the absurdist, gonzo, punk-rock tone, the film manages to be a decent piece of entertainment — not good, just ridiculous and outlandishly fun. The Blu-ray from Shout! Factory arrives with very good picture quality and a better than expected audio presentation that will please the few fans out there. With a new assortment of supplements that are worth watching, the overall package is shockingly worth the asking price; that is, if you enjoy bad movies.