Should I Watch..? Showgirls
What's the big deal?
Showgirls is an erotic drama film released in 1995 written by Joe Eszterhas and directed by Paul Verhoeven, who had previously worked together on the equally controversial Basic Instinct. The film generated considerable controversy at the time for the amount of sex and nudity contained in the movie which gave the film the dreaded NC-17 rating in the US. This made it the first widely-available NC-17 movie shown in mainstream cinemas but that didn't help the film's takings - the film took less than $38 million dollars against a $45 million budget. It is widely regarded as one of the worst movies of the 90s - indeed, it was voted as such at the 2000 Razzie Awards ceremony - although it has since developed into a cult classic and fared much better in the video rental market.
What's it about?
Hitching a ride into Las Vegas, wannabe dancer Nomi Malone arrives to discover a city full of cheats and degenerates. Abandoned and robbed by her driver, she makes friends with Molly who works as a costume designer at the Stardust casino and eventually, the two become room-mates. Through Molly, Nomi meets the queen diva of the Vegas Strip Cristal Conners who is currently starring in the topless revue Goddess. This meeting inspires Nomi to follow her dreams and she quickly gets a job at Cheetah's topless club.
Determined to rise to the top, Nomi is visited at work by Cristal and her boyfriend Zack who works as the entertainment director at the Stardust who requests a private lap-dance from Nomi to humiliate her. Despite this, Nomi exploits her relationships with Cristal, Molly and Zack to slowly work her way into the chorus-line at Goddess. From then on, she refuses to let anything or anyone get in her way...
Trailer (safe for work!)
128 long minutes...
Release Date (UK)
12th January, 1996
Worst Picture Of The Decade, Worst Picture, Worst Actress (Berkeley), Worst Screen Couple (any two cast members), Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst New Star (Berkeley), Worst Original Song ("Walk Into The Wind")
Worst Drama Of Our First 25 Years, Worst Actor (MacLachlan), Worst Supporting Actor (Davi), Worst Supporting Actor (Alan Rachins), Worst Supporting Actress (Gershon), Worst Supporting Actress (Lin Tucci), Worst Remake (considered a remake of "All About Eve")
What's to like?
You've got to admire Eszterhas and Verhoeven for creating what may possibly turn out to be the last great exploitation movie Hollywood has produced. The film is a full-bore exercise in trashy cinema which at least suits the equally gaudy subject matter. At times, it does become a comedy with dialogue that sounds like it was written by a horny teenager and whole scenes that make no sense. It also exposes the hidden dangers of being a showgirl - who knew that moneky poop left on stage could be so dangerous or that it's possible to bond with your rival by discovering that at one point in your life, you both ate the exact same brand of dog food?
It sounds like I'm making this up but I'm really not. Verhoeven tries to cram in a thriller element with the tacky rape subplot thrown in for good measure but Showgirls is as loud and proud as its cast who gamely give it their all. Berkeley, who just a few years earlier appeared on TV's Saved By The Bell, whirls and gyrates her way through the picture like a crack whore in front of a webcam and puts so much effort into the role that you almost feel sorry for her.
- When the film swept the board at the infamous Razzies, director Verhoeven accepted the awards in person - the first person ever to do so.
- The only scenes actually shot in Las Vegas were of Berkeley playing the slot machines and shopping at The Forum in Caesar's Palace.
- There were actually plans for a sequel called "Bimbos: Nomi Does Hollywood" and would feature Nomi aiming for a movie career. Needless to say, these plans were dropped when Showgirls bombed.
What's not to like?
I never expected to see the day when I would grow bored with the sight of boobs but it turns out that today is that day. Showgirls has so much pointless nudity that you become desensitised to it, meaning the film is reduced to its desperate performances and threadbare plot. But the movie inhabits its own little world where people talk and act like these characters - certainly, it has no basis in reality. The plot, which I suspect Eszterhas wrote on the back of a napkin, feels like a recycled Flashdance or All About Eve but with the adult content turned up to eleven.
Gershon has fun as the bisexual (naturally!) star of the Strip but MacLachlan hams his way through the picture, resulting in the most ludicrous and spasmodic sex scene in cinema history and I've seen both Crank movies. It's impossible not to laugh at it! I got the feeling that Verhoeven and Eszterhas were coasting on their previous success with equally shameless murder-mystery Basic Instinct but this lacks any of that film's sense of drama, chemistry or tension. This is a hackneyed and cheesy glam-fest, offering little to the average viewer besides laughable dialogue, a dreadful soundtrack, a stupid script and no sense of self-worth at all.
Should I watch it?
Even the dirty-mac brigade would struggle to justify watching this pointless and cheap skin-flick that's about as erotic as a charity appeal for famine relief. Verhoeven is a better director than Showgirls suggests while Eszterhas's obsession with bisexual femme fatales is starting to look a little old-fashioned. It lacks any sort of eroticism or drama and correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't an erotic drama need at least one of those things?
Great For: home commentaries, the pause button
Not So Great For: adults, children, Las Vegas's entertainment industry, the #MeToo movement
What else should I watch?
Showgirls might well be a shameless excuse for cheap titillation but it is far from being alone. Demi Moore's Striptease follows a similar vein where her single mother character is forced to become a lap dancer for Burt Reynolds to pay for custody of her kids. And even her ex-husband found himself caught in a lousy skin-flick - Bruce Willis' appearance in Color Of Night is almost as inexplicable as the film's incredibly dumb script.
Of course, the daddy of them all is Eszterhas's Basic Instinct which throws in gratuitous nudity and a bisexual femme fatale into your standard murder-mystery thriller. But the film doesn't rely on the titillation to move it forward and at least Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone are considerably more believable than any of the cast of Showgirls.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox