Written by: Stephen Kondracki, Special to CC2K
All hail James Garner and his … well, you know the rest.
If there was ever a more perfect word to match its subject, I haven’t heard of it. It’s just so…so meaty and strong. The word conjures indestructibility. The object itself is one of the most indestructible weapons of modern warfare (is it? I don’t know, I guess it’s up there on the list). The word is brute and forceful. The object, yep, brute and forceful. I could go on, but I won’t. Also, there’s a movie, it’s called Tank, and I’ll be damned if it’s not the kick-assest movie ever made in 1984.
I must preface this review with a few minor details about the reviewer. I am a total war movie nerd. True story: three of my all time favorite movies (not just war movies, but movies in general) are Gettysburg, Red Dawn, and The Great Escape. Let’s think about that for a second. Who co-stars in BOTH Gettysburg AND Red Dawn? Oh yeah, C. Thomas Howell. Who stars co-stars in The Great Escape? James effing Garner. Some more full disclosure, I’m literally writing this paragraph before having even seen the movie Tank. At this point all I really know about this movie is that it stars James Garner and C. Thomas Howell and it has something to do with James Garner driving a tank around like it’s normal. I just shit my fucking pants. If this is the only part of my review that gets published, it’s because I started watching the movie and it just blew my mind so hard that I died of a full-body braingasm and I had no reason to even be alive anymore. So let’s get started.
The film opens up with a blatant rip off of the opening scene to The Great Escape – complete with wide-angle helicopter shot and a fife-and-drum cadence for a soundtrack. And of course, there’s a tank. Garner inexplicably arrives on his new army base with his very own Sherman tank. One man, a reporter, is mildly surprised by this and asks Garner why he has his own tank. He is somehow satisfied with Garner’s response: “I thought everyone had one of these.” As a viewer, you know you’re in for a great ride when James Garner is spewing deliciously cheesy jokes from the cockpit of a Sherman tank. Honestly, who the hell thinks of this crap?
Much to my dismay, however, the first half of the movie progresses with no more tank. Aside from the opening scene, the only thing we see Garner piloting is an early 80’s wood-paneled station wagon (you all know exactly what I’m talking about – either your parents or your neighbors had one and it was awesome). Instead of awesome tank stuff, all we get is some crappy conflict development – something about a local deputy beating up a hooker named Sarah and Garner being none too pleased about it. Of course, after giving the deputy a deserving kick in the crotch, he lands himself in a whole heap of trouble. Here is where the intensity ramps up (probably – I was making a frozen pizza at this point and not really paying attention). A vicious cat-and-mouse game ensues, and some other stuff happens, I think. Eventually C. Thomas Howell, who plays Garner’s son, is framed for selling drugs and lands himself in the Sheriff’s lock-up. But then, finally, TANK TIME.
In one of the greatest pump-you-up moments in cinema history, James Garner finally is pushed to the limit and in classic synthesizer-fueled montage glory, he mounts that beast and heads into town. To break his son out of jail, Garner effortlessly lays waste to the whole building with his tank, pointlessly shooting up an undeserving automobile because that’s what tanks do. Sarah the hooker, of course, appears out of absolute thin air and provides braless, hard-nippled assistance along the way. But what’s this? C. Thomas has already been transported from the jail to the work farm? Oh no, off we go in the tank! Let’s see if we can drive there really slowly, blow up a truck to surprise everyone, and then literally run over my son with the tank in order save him. Hooray! Action movie! We’ll blow up another truck before we leave because it’s in our budget, too! As expected, the deputies that defend the work farm don’t just roll over and die. They valiantly fire their pistols at the tank until the last moment when it becomes clear that they must run away in order to survive and fight again another day.
As if you’d even think about being fulfilled enough by the action at this point. Things slow down a little bit, seductively, in order to lull you into thinking you’ll watch a great character drama unfold until BAM, more tank shit! Stuff explodes, local yokels form a posse and chase after the trio in the tank. There’s a great heart to heart moment between Garner and Howell. Father to son, they get some things off their chest and some differences out of the way. All the while Garner devises his plan to take Howell across state lines in the tank so that he can be somehow protected by some crazy law that doesn’t exist and ignores the utter destruction of an entire town by a crazy man in a tank. Meanwhile the media and the world are captivated, and Garners wife calls the governor an asshole. Then, the race to the border is on. It’s a heavyweight bout between local sheriff and crazy tank guy (but not before Garner manages a serious injury in a freak tank accident, forcing his son to man up and take the wheel or stick or whatever it is you use to steer a tank).
Do they make it across the state line? Can they defeat the tyranny of local Sheriff? I can’t spoil the rest of the movie for you. You’ll just have to see it for yourself. But rest assured that you’ll laugh (true), you’ll cry (possibly), you’ll be moved (not even close), and you will applaud (debatable). What this movie offers us is an experience we can’t get anywhere else. You’ve got small town hick cops and hick citizens spontaneously erupting into a pickup truck demolition derby that has absolutely nothing to do with anything, an awkward father-son-hooker love triangle inside a tank, masterfully written dialog, marching bands, Hell’s Angels, a game of tug-of-war in the mud, and something about a “pussy communist.” It’s First Blood meets Cannonball Run; Young Guns meets Revenge of the Nerds; it’s the legal suspense of A Time to Kill wrapped up in the rogue military goodness of Taps. And of course, there’s a friggin tank and it blows shit up. I could go on, but I won’t.