Thursday, May 12, 2016
Chomsky is slumming here, and so is James Garner, who breezes through the starring role of Sergeant Major Zack Carey, who arrives at a Georgia base with his wife (Shirley Jones) and teenage son (C. Thomas Howell) for his final assignment before retiring to a fishing boat. An off-post incident with a pimp small-town deputy (James Cromwell) abusing prostitute Sara (Jenilee Harrison) puts Carey up against the local sheriff, the corrupt and racist Cyrus Buelton (G.D. Spradlin).
Did I mention Carey owns a fully restored and operational Sherman tank? Well, he does, and he uses it to bust Howell out of jail after the sheriff frames the boy on a drug charge. With Sara along as a passenger, the Carey men chug their way to the state line, where they can get a fair hearing, blowing up a few police cars along the way.
TANK is empty calories and uneven viewing. Lightweight scenes of Garner scaring away rednecks with his tank while wacky banjo music plays on the soundtrack mix uncomfortably with unpleasant scenes involving whippings and child abuse. TANK was originally rated R by the MPAA and successfully appealed to a PG (it’s the rare PG film to feature the word “fuckin’”). In its favor is Garner, who immediately gets the audience on his side through his natural charm and his portrayal of a career military man whose strong moral code butts up against a powerful immoral force.
Thinking about Dan Gordon’s (GOTCHA!) story too much is a danger, as TANK exists in an America where the Constitution must not exist (in the real world, Howell would be out of jail in a day). Whatever the film’s story problems, it’s difficult to resist James Garner driving around and smashing things with a tank.