Two years ago, newspaper reporter John "Tank" Malling (Ray Winstone) nearly had his career utterly derailed when he became involved with high class prostitute Helen Searle (Amanda Donohoe), who wished him to assist her in taking down a conspiracy that stretched to the farthest echelons of British society. But however accurate her claims had been, the establishment were not about to roll over and so Tank was discredited and almost lost his job. Now he has made a comeback in his chosen profession, nothing major but it pays the bills, when Helen reappears and asks him to track down an incriminating diary...
Possibly one of the worst-reviewed British films of all time, now it's the twenty-first century Tank Malling does perhaps need reappraisal. Not because it was any good, it still isn't, but because what looked like an abberation in the country's cinematic output now appears to have been very prescient in its wallow in the seedy underworld of gangsters and corruption. Those British criminal thrillers and football hooligan movies and comedies with a meanspirited streak a mile wide: they all have this as their forefather, no matter that there were movies before this covering the same ground.
But it looks like those efforts aimed at the half-drunk looking for mindless home entertainment on a Friday night had their grounding established here. Take a bunch of actors and celebrities for stunt casting (in this case eighties glamour model Maria Whittaker as herself and boxer John Conteh as a hitman), a few "hey... isn't that Zammo's girlfriend from Grange Hill?" style bit parts, and a production team of likely lads who took this to their hearts as their pet project making it one step above amateur hour, and Bob was indeed your uncle. There were those who complained it was relentlessly boring as well as unutterably nasty, but while the latter may have been true, others divined unintentional comedy in its attempts to be gritty.
Grotty was more like it, with Winstone's features permanently twisted in an incredulous scowl no matter what Tank's life throws at him - and why is he called Tank when nobody refers to him as that in the film? What kind of a nickname is that, anyway? Hey-ho, it doesn't really matter because as bad as the title is, the rest more than lives up to it as our hero gets embroiled with a scheme to allow self-styled moralists a stranglehold over British life, led by a dazed-looking Peter Wyngarde. He plays, in his final role, Sir Robert Knights ("Sir" and "Knights" in the same name? He must be important!), who is actually a religious maniac and effectively a mouthpiece for some kind of fascist organisation which is trying to exert vice-like control.
Except that we see they already have their hooks in every area of the nation's power structure, so how much more do they need? Tank is presumably intended to be like the Warren Beatty character in The Parallax View, so much so that whole plot points are lifted from that cult classic willy-nilly without much thought to how they would fit into the culture from this side of the Atlantic. Defence of the Realm, Edge of Darkness on television, these are the UK conspiracy thrillers that got it right because to many the powers that be in that time were believably sinister, whereas here the bad guys are laughably cartoonish, especially Jason Connery's Nazi-esque puppetmaster. Not quite consistently absurd to be hilarious yet still fatally silly when it's trying to shock or make you go "Hmm", you could chalk this up to a brave try, but the fact that so many followed in its footsteps means that Tank Malling had the last laugh. Music by Rick Fenn and Nick Mason.