Watching "Tank Girl" is as disorienting as waking up in someone else's bad dream. You want to get out as fast as possible, but all the exits seem to be blocked.
Busy on the surface but numbing everywhere else, this largely live-action version of the cult comic book plays like an extended video for a group that is never going to make it. Heavy on attitude and posturing, it is the kind of production that tarnishes the word cartoonish .
"Tank Girl" is set in 2033, on a planet Earth turned into one enormous desert after a collision with a "humongous comet." It hasn't rained in 11 years, water is more precious than gold, and the dread Department of Water and Power "has got most of the water and all of the power."
Telling us all this, in typically annoying nasal tones, is Rebecca (Lori Petty), soon to be Tank Girl but first glimpsed riding a water buffalo outfitted with Day-Glo goggles. Rebecca herself is dressed in trademark psychedelic Salvation Army castoffs, just trying to get along in this devastated world.
Feisty, smart-mouthed, given to saying such irritating things as "It's been swell but the swelling's gone down," Rebecca theoretically exudes a kind of raffish charm but, as written by Tedi Sarafian, comes off instead as regrettably irrepressible.
Once she gets hold of her tank, and her new name, Tank Girl eventually squares off against Water and Power's villainous Kesslee, the umpteenth standard-issue power-mad psycho to be played by the tireless Malcolm McDowell. Kesslee is especially adept at wielding the film's key gizmo, a vacuum tube-shaped object that efficiently ends life by sucking all the water out of a person.
Helping Tank Girl fight the good fight is the imaginatively named Jet Girl (Naomi Watts) and a group of mutant beasts called Rippers, who combine the leaping ability of kangaroos with the je ne sais quoi of the human race. T-Saint, the leader of that group, is played by rapper Ice-T, who, like all the other Rippers, is close to unrecognizable under Stan Winston's "designed for the screen" makeup.
Distantly related to "Mad Max" but without any of the brilliance, let alone the madness, of that film, "Tank Girl" seems determined to win friends among the MTV generation. It throws lively animated footage into the mix whenever it can, and its soundtrack, coordinated by Courtney Love and featuring work by Hole and Portishead, is especially up to date.
* MPAA rating: R for violence, language and sexuality. Times guidelines: Raunchy humor is one of the film's trademarks.
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'Tank Girl' Lori Petty: Tank Girl Ice-T: T-Saint Naomi Watts: Jet Girl Don Harvey: Sergeant Small Jeff Kober: Booga Malcolm McDowell: Kesslee A Trilogy Entertainment Group production, released by United Artists Pictures. Director Rachel Talalay. Producers Richard B. Lewis, Pen Densham, John Watson. Executive producers Aaron Warner, Tom Astor. Screenplay by Tedi Sarafian, based on the comic strip created by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett. Cinematographer Gale Tattersall. Editor James R. Symons. Costumes Arianne Phillips. Music Graeme Revell. Production design Catherine Hardwicke. Art directors Phillip Toolin, Charles D. Lee, Richard Yanez-Toyon, Jim Dultz. Set decorator Cindy Carr. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.