The epitome of “so bad, it’s good.”
Movie Review #1,088
Distributed by United Artists. Drama. Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes. Rated NC-17 for nudity and erotic sexuality throughout, and for some graphic language and sexual violence. Released September 22, 1995. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Produced by Charles Evans and Alan Marshall. Written by Joe Eszterhas. Starring Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon, Glenn Plummer, Robert Davi, Alan Rachins, Gina Ravera, Lin Tucci, and Greg Travis.
Man, oh man, is “Showgirls” a movie. I don’t want to say you’ll never see anything like it, but it sure is one of a kind. I’ve seen wilder movies in my time, but given the complicating factor that this is likely the sleaziest movie you’ll ever watch, things get pretty great.
The story revolves around Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley), a street-smart drifter who hits Las Vegas to climb the hierarchy from nightclub stripper to showgirl. She takes a cab there seemingly as a spur of the moment decision, knowing nobody in Vegas and having nowhere to stay until she meets Molly (Gina Ravera), a fellow erotic dancer who offers her a place to crash until she gets back on her feet. Through Molly she meets Cristal (Gina Gershon), her foil, who gets her an audition in her show “Goddess”. This is seemingly her key to stardom, but she soon realizes that she must sacrifice many of her morals, as well as her friendships, to achieve the fame for which she yearns.
“Showgirls” is notorious for being the only NC-17 rated film to receive a wide theatrical release; despite a poor box office performance, it has developed a major cult following in subsequent years, and rightfully so if you ask this critic. Every little bit of this movie is so bad that it’s good, and the fact that Paul Verhoeven is the man directing the whole shebang adds another layer to it. To describe his commandeering of the film as “edgy” would be an insane understatement.
We’re treated to over two hours of sub par acting and cheesy dialogue that only seems to work in its favor. The sex scenes, stripping scenes, and lap dancing scenes that abound in “Showgirls” are absolutely ridiculous but that’s part of what makes the movie so much fun. And if that isn’t enough to keep one on one’s toes, the chemistry between the rivaling Nomi and Cristal is. We watch them stare each other down in such a way that even when they connect with each other on a deep personal level, their resentment for each other is ever-growing. Couple that with laughable small talk about topics such as their shared love for dog food and you have the icing on the cake.
It is also worth noting that “Showgirls” can also be looked at from a more serious angle, concerning its commentary on the way women are treated in this industry. We see sexual coercion by the boss at the nightclub where Nomi starts out, as well as by the director of the show that Nomi and Cristal headline, and even a graphic gang rape scene. Whether it was intended this way or not, the movie has a strange but even balance of guilty pleasure and Juvenalian satire.
Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas seems to be an expert at this kind of movie. Prior to this he had written other sultry cult classics such as “Flashdance” and “Basic Instinct” (the latter also directed by Verhoeven). Those were both enjoyable films in their own rights, but “Showgirls” blows them both out of the water by leading us to believe that they just take themselves too seriously (and I’ll be damned if “Flashdance” isn’t a cheesy movie).