It is the year 2033 and the world is a very different place since a comet struck the planet and got rid of most of the water. H20 is now a precious commodity and a multinational corporation headed by Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell) is doing its best to control every single last drop, using force if necessary. But in this part of the land, there are also roaming bands of so-called Rippers which savage anyone who gets in their way and are sabotaging the corporation's efforts. So where does that leave survivor Rebecca (Lori Petty)?
That leaves her trying to personify the cult comic book character as created by British writer and artist team Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, and to all intents and purposes missing the appeal of that source by a mile. Tank Girl was a disaster when it was first released, pleasing not those who adored the original, and not the masses who could not get a handle on what on earth this movie was aiming for; some kind of sci-fi spoof, perhaps, but if so, a spoof of what? The print character was irrepressibly irreverent, but also included references to British pop culture which simply would not have travelled.
That was what made it so funny to the initiaties, but MGM decided after securing the rights for a huge sum that all of that was to be jetitisoned in favour of the kind of post-apocalypse movie that had fallen out of fashion in the eighties, sort of a Waterworld with too little liquid instead of too much. This wasn't as expensive as the Kevin Costner folly, but it took even less money, yet as the years have gone by a cult following has grown up around this Tank Girl, as there are those who would readily admit it didn't capture the spirit of the comic, but like what they came up with as a substitute.
However, it's hard to defend Petty's performance, coming across as she does as a children's television presenter somehow let loose on grown up shows and flailing as a result. Her would-be kooky, actually tiresome incarnation of the character, here pointlessly given a name so that she doesn't actually drive the tank until the halfway point, is a committee's idea of a rebel, and if there's one thing committees shouldn't design it's a rebel. Where they really went wrong was trying to give this a serious storyline, so there's a little girl placed in peril, and an environmental message very much of its time, and no less groan-inducing for its wacky setting.
As if that wasn't bad enough, we were meant to see Rebecca's vendetta against Kesslee as vengeance prompted by the masscare of her mates by his troops, surely a far too sober plot point for a film that forces the zany qualities by having the cast do a Cole Porter song and dance number among other things. Some of the grit survived in the girls against boys mood to the humour, so much is made of Rebecca and her new pal Jet Girl (Naomi Watts, who emerged from this to truly go places, unlike most of the rest of the cast) facing off against the males, yet without much of an idea about where to go with it. Once Ice-T arrives in an uncharacteristically terrible Stan Winston makeup as a kangaroo, along with a bunch of other hapless actors, this is all over the place and not in a good way. Many observed they should have made an animated feature instead, for those cartoon inserts have the right approach, but it could be the source was best on the page, where you could peruse the jokes at your leisure. Music by Graeme Revell.