My friend Dan from work bought me this as my Secret Santa present, and seeing as Dan had made the excellent recommendations of Weird Science and No Such Thing, among others, I went straight home and watched it. Once more, Dan proved to be right on the money, in this case knowing that I would be way into this film’s mixture of a dystopian future suffused with a lot of strange an unnerving sexual deviancy.
We open with this guy Sam coming home to his wife, who has prepared his meal in this kitchen of the future. She is in the same mold as Dorothy Stratten in Galaxina. She tells him some factoid, but when he asks her a question that she doesn’t know, she gets all depressed and quickly turns to seduction to gloss over her perceived defect. They start to make it on the floor while the dishwasher’s suds are spilling out, and are getting all into it when she suddenly shorts out and dies: she’s a robot. It’s too bad that this is all known up front, because it would have been quite a shock if this happened and you had no idea it was coming.
So Sam goes to this Michael Keaton-type mechanic, where we learn that Sam’s wife was a Cherry 2000, an extremely rare and out-of-print model. The mechanic says that even though they’re all the same, “each of these honeys has her own special magic.” He then shows Sam some other available models in this kind of showroom. First we catch a glimpse of Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet and also the robot from The Day the Earth Stood Still, before moving on to the Bambi 14, who is seen on the floor in a schoolgirl outfit [below], and it’s obvious that the “14” in her name refers to the age she is supposed to be. But Sam isn’t satisfied and really wants his Cherry back. They take her memory chip, which looks like a thumbnail-sized CD, and contains her complete personality, ready to be dropped into another model, should he be able to find one.
The next day Sam goes to work, which is shown as a series of ramps with constantly-moving lines of people pushing grocery carts loaded with broken electronic equipment. There’s all this stuff about conservation and repairing electronics instead of throwing them out, and every wall of the building says “Save.” Sam is joined by these two middle-aged “players” who harangue him to join them at drinks after work. Sam parks himself in front of a series of extension cords and says “No, I’ve gotta stay here and sort out this extension cord situation.” His friends insist that he “has to try REAL WOMEN,” but Sam only wants his cherry back. Finally he relents and agrees to join them.
They go to this nightclub of the future—and surely you know that nightclubs of the future are ALWAYS welcome—that has a door that looks uncannily like looking straight up a woman’s crotch, with the two red doors opening in a way that suggests that they are walking into her labia. Inside there are couples negotiating sex with the help of lawyers, a featured one of whom is played by Laurence Fishburne. We see one couple contract for an evening with a possible morning interlude, which the woman balks at, saying the situation sounds a little “sticky.” Then Sam is approached by this woman who shows him a tape of herself having sex, then expects him to show her one. This is how they negotiate. She is really pissed and asks him “then why are you here?” when he says he doesn’t have one. He goes home and plays Cherry’s voice while laying in bed with her dead robot body.
So Sam goes back to the mechanic and asks if there’s any way to get a Cherry 2000. The guy tells him that he has to hire a tracker and go out into the desert to the “robot graveyard” and maybe he can find one there, pop her personality chip in and he’ll be all set. It is best for you not to ask why there is a “robot graveyard,” why they aren’t recycled like everything else, why this graveyard is so heavily guarded, and what reason anyone would have to expect that this robot would work—I mean, it’s been tossed out, right? We are also politely refraining from asking why they stopped making Cherrys if they’re so all-round fabulous and so superior to anything manufactured then. Please keep your mind on the psychosexual issues and do not dwell on plausibilities. The producers wish to thank you in advance for your compliance.
Now, all along there has very smartly been a LOT of sexual content in the background reminding us of what this story’s really about, especially the LARGE amount of vaginal shapes littering many of the sets, and weird one-liners that make you think someone MUST be fucking with you, such as this one: “There’s a tracker bar called the GLORY HOLE where you’ll find a JOHNSON.” Is it just me? Is it just my dirty mind? Or is the screenwriter fucking with us? Whichever it is, I wouldn’t say no to a Johnson right now myself.
So he drives off in his sleek tripod car to this town which is apparently a sleazoid dive where people go for lots of hot robot sex, and checks into this hotel. Please note the muscular cowboy sex robot waiting in the lobby, which is sort of nice, that the idea of this world is inclusive of women and men who want male robots. There’s a few more male robots around, all sort of gay-type masculine stereotypes. One of the nice side effects of this movie is that you can never be sure who’s a robot and who isn’t. So Sam goes to the office of “E. Johnson,” only to discover that not only is she a woman, she’s Melanie Griffith! And not only is she Melanie Griffith, but she’s Melanie Griffith with bright RED hair, and a general fondness for all things red. We will leave the discussion of this redness and him seeking the “cherry” until later. She is wearing a sweatshirt that says “Dignity” [is she a lesbian Catholic?]. He walks away from her because she’s a woman, but she—get this—kicks a desk chair toward him, which hits the back of his legs, causing him to sit down [as well as exclaim “What the!”], after which she LASSOS him, then pulls him toward her. It’s just the kind of thing you do a hundred times a day. But he disses her [after which she tries her best to look tough while swilling a slug of Jack] and goes to the Glory Hole [right across the street], where he orders “rum and a cruller.” There is this whole VERY odd scene in which everyone laughs at him, which builds into a big biker brawl, and he runs out and Melanie is waiting there, and they take off to go into the dreaded Zone 7.
So they drive and they banter and they bond, and later, when Melanie stops to sleep, she hears him playing a tape of himself having sex with Cherry [sounds pretty boring]. We receive some information that this guy Lester controls Zone 7. We then have this QUITE odd action sequence which relates to them getting across this river canyon. The top of the car is stuck with one of those giant magnet things, and it hoists them way up in the air while guys on the surrounding bluffs shoot rocket launchers at them, and they shoot back with their own rocket launchers. Implausible, sure, but a rocket launcher shootout—come on, who can quibble? So then Melanie shoots the guy running the crane, and he dies. Then there’s this AMAZING stunt which I think they pretty much just DID [i.e. no digital trickery] in which the magnet drops the car, but Melanie has attached a wire to it, so it jerks around while her stand-in is holding on, over the Grand Canyon. Then the dead operator’s corpse just HAPPENS to shift in such a way that swings the car around and gingerly sets it down this huge concrete tunnel in the Earth. Melanie says she’s done this several times before—and every time the dead operator’s corpse just happens to shift in exactly the same way? Pretty remarkable. Nevertheless, Plausibility aside, it is a cool and different action scene.
So they get out of the car and slide down the tunnel—it’s odd, but we like odd—and make it to this hideout where they meet six-finger Jake or some shit. They have this whole discussion about fucked up Sam is to be in love with a robot. He liked Cherry above all the others because she was “romantic,” which causes Melanie to get up and shout “we are talking about a robot here, right?” This conversation is the big switch in Sam, as after this he starts falling in love with Melanie, especially during a scene where he’s watching her as she sleeps to a horrible wailing guitar soundtrack.
Things go on, and things start getting very conventional. This is a prime example of the First Two-Thirds principal, as ALL the interesting content of this movie, with all the stuff about sexual fantasy vs. reality, fake but perfect women vs. real women with flaws [like that Raggedy Ann hair], the sexualization of our culture, not to mention the whole extension-cord situation, all gets dropped as we head into showdown and explosions and guns and stuff. There is a moment when Sam is making out with Melanie and laying atop her, which I think is meant to echo back to the moment Cherry died, meaning that now Melanie has fully BECOME the real Cherry 2000. This is what I think the red hair and all the other Melanie-red is about: she's the REAL Cherry.
Nevertheless, serious, drastic downturn. Still very much worth watching for the fascinating content of the first two-thirds, and the last third definitely won’t kill you. David Andrews is semi-charmning as Sam, and Melanie, well, is Melanie. To me she’s like nails on a chalkboard, but since this is an outlandish movie and she’s an outlandish character, it works much better than if she were trying to be serious. Plus, there are really great little details, like the way [actually moving] when Cherry gets all bummed out that she doesn’t know something, and immediately falls back on her sexuality, and the male hustler standing around, stuff like that. If you like cheesy sci-fi and get into a lot of highly-charged sexual content, do it. DO IT!
Yes, especially if you’re into sci-fi examinations of current sexuality, although the last third does take a nosedive into the conventional.
TANK GIRL also takes place in a dystopian future and also features a LOT of fucked-up sexual content.