U.S.A. - France / 1995
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Elizabeth Berkley
Kyle MacLachlan
Gina Gershon
Color / 131 Minutes / NC-17
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
MGM Home Entertainment
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
    5   10 = Highest Rating  
Conventional wisdom holds that director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Basic Instinct) really blew it with his 1995 'erotic' film Showgirls, a supposed modern take on the classic behind-the-scenes showbiz drama All About Eve. The first and last major studio release rated NC-17, it was universally panned by critics and bombed at the box-office. In reality the film is nowhere near as bad as I'd been led to believe. As a tawdry spectacle it's actually rather unique. Imagine one of those sleazy direct-to-video skin flicks the kind run on Cinemax "Friday After Dark" only with name actors, an A-List director and cinematographer, and a $50 Million budget. Viewed from that perspective (and provided you don't mind looking at naked women), Showgirls can be a silly, enjoyable piece of fluff.
    The film chronicles in episodic fashion the rise of young Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley) from penniless stripper to high-dollar Las Vegas showgirl. She arrives in the gambling mecca by hitchhiking, her only possessions the contents of a single suitcase and the clothes on her back. (Not that she'll have much need of the latter as the flick progresses.) Though uneducated she's tough and streetwise; she refuses to talk about her past with anyone, even those who genuinely befriend her. That circle is a particularly small one, as almost every person she encounters is a liar, a slimeball, or completely mercenary in their outlook. (Is it supposed to come as some kind of revelation that a lot of the people involved in the 'adult entertainment' industry are unsavory?) Joe Eszterhas' script reveals its triteness very early on when the first person Nomi encounters on the streets of Vegas, costume designer Molly (Gina Ravera), ends up taking her in and providing a place to stay despite their getting into a fight. (Happens all the time, right?)
    Nomi gets a job stripping at Cheetah's, a nude dance club run by oily Al (Robert Davi, Licence to Kill). She's very, very good, swiftly becoming one of Al's top attractions. One night she catches the attention of casino entertainment director Zack (The Hidden's Kyle MacLachlan) and his girlfriend Crystal (Gina Gershon, Bound), star of a big budget topless revue called Goddess, when the couple comes to party at the club. Bisexual Crystal is actually more attracted to Nomi than Zack is; she pays $500 for her to give him a steamy lap dance while she watches. Seeing her younger self in Nomi, Crystal arranges for the stripper to get an audition for a chorus girl slot in the Goddess show. She isn't playing the Good Samaritan by any means. Crystal's a cold-hearted bitch who's doing it for fun, toying with Nomi as would a cat with a cornered mouse. But Nomi's toughness, an internal armor built up during her mysterious past, serves her well. She can dish it out with the best (or rather worst) of them. Her defenses only begin to crack when she discovers that the high rollers and big-time players of the glitzy stage show world are an even nastier pack of sharks than those circling backstage in the strip clubs. Will Nomi sell her soul to become a star?
    Would you even care if she weren't getting naked every five minutes?
    Completely vacuous on nearly every level, Showgirls is nevertheless an absolutely beautiful-looking piece of junk. Jost Vacano's cinematography is just gorgeous
; director Verhoeven is no slouch and has a fine eye, lending kinetic urgency to the rather clichéd story. It's almost as if Dario Argento had helmed a movie about titty dancers. Where the movie comes a cropper is the script, which is terrible. The dialog is fairly atrocious. (It's hard to believe Eszterhas got $2 Million for writing it. Instead of All About Eve, think Girl in Gold Boots.) I could buy into much of the hokum if I could be sure it was intended as camp, but a rather grim final act in which the movie's most decent, unselfish character is brutally beaten and gang-raped seems to belie this. Still, some of the bitchy zingers exchanged between Nomi and Crystal are rather amusing. They're the highlight of the film... that, and Ms. Berkley's onstage performances. Blasted by critics for her acting, Berkley demonstrates a huge set of cajones (metaphorically speaking) with this role. I don't think she's terrible by any means when you consider the script; physically she's exuberant and totally unabashed. She's also a very good dancer. Given that her career hasn't really gone anywhere in the interval, perhaps she should've given up acting and become a stripper instead.
    Ironically the grandiose Vegas production numbers, in their garish kitschiness, actually come off sleazier (and more embarrassing) than any of the fully nude bump 'n' grind antics at the titty bar. I have been to strip clubs a time or twelve, but never to a 'Lido'-style show in Las Vegas. Are they really that cheesy?

Aside from the theatrical trailer and a lightweight 'Making Of' puff piece that originally ran on Showtime, MGM's Showgirls disc is a bare bones affair. The insert booklet (featuring 2 pages of liner notes) doesn't add anything substantive either, especially regarding the controversy the flick generated upon release. (Many American newspapers refused to run print ads for the film.) Audio/visual quality of the non-anamorphic widescreen print is quite good, however, with eye-popping colors and a powerful Surround mix. 1/29/03