The nineties had a weird trend where studios took classic films and attempted to rework them in to contemporary trash films. Pamela Anderson starred in a “Casablanca” remake with “Barb Wire,” Vanilla Ice tried for his own “Rebel Without a Cause” remake with “Cool as Ice,” and oddly enough Paul Verhoeven aims for a remake of “All About Eve” with the cult Joe Esterhas anomaly known as “Showgirls.” Simultaneously lambasted and praised for being so unabashedly stupid and sleazy, Verhoeven attempts to hide a narrative better suited Skinemax than world wide release in theaters beneath thin art house veneers that fool no one.
Experiencing no end of (highly publicized) troubles with the MPAA and critics in 1995, I vividly remember “Showgirls” being given so much nigh endless buzz and ballyhoo. People did nothing but talk about it for a few years, discussing and mocking the awful script, the endless barrage of goofy moments intended to act as “drama,” and of course Elizabeth Berkeley. For Berkeley, “Showgirls” was a big spotlight for her, as she was still fresh in the minds of kids as the upright Jessie Spano in the hit sitcom “Saved by the Bell.” Almost immediately she jumped right in to adult movie fare, and didn’t opt for subtly at all. In an almost snap of the finger, Berkley is in a teen sitcom one moment, and engaging in nude lesbian foreplay with Gina Gershon in “Showgirls.”
To say that it’s what killed her career for a long time would be kind of a pushing it a bit. Berkeley is awful as Nomi Malone, the inadvertent heroine (?) and femme fatale of the piece who finds herself in the midst of the sexual politics of stripping and erotic dancing in the epicenter of Las Vegas Nevada. She’s one part a naïve small town girl, and one part a kitten with a whip who manages to scheme her way through most of her life onscreen. Although she is a popular stripper, she dreams of being a high class stripper in the famous erotic show at the Stardust. Only the elite of erotic performers and dancers get jobs there, allowing them a chance at bigger opportunities. But as we might guess it, a lot of the back stage antics is taken up by sexed up men that act a lot more like pimps than managers, and cut throat strippers that will do anything to be the head liner.
Often times Nomi is witness to dancers duking it out back stage, while the seemingly “artistic” performance devolves in to potential opportunities for prostitution with high ranking businessmen. It’s something that Nomi wants no part of, despite jumping in to bed with pretty much everyone in the movie, including Zack, when it seems he might hand her the lead role to replace Cristal. There is also Nomi’s friendship/relationship with friend Molly, a seamstress at the Stardust who puts up with Nomi for reasons only Joe Esterhas really knows. There are so much inexplicable elements to the narrative that are unexplained, insanely stupid, or completely abandoned, hoping we won’t call much attention.
For example, among the many, many sub-plots Nomi is handed, she grabs the attention of dancer and composer James. He has aspirations to create his own show and wants Nomi to collaborate with him and perhaps find something so much more tasteful than erotic dancing. Mid-way through the movie, Esterhas gets bored with the sub-plot as it goes absolutely nowhere, and James is written off the movie with barely a whimper. What happened to the big production they were planning?
One only knows. At least actor Glenn Plummer and Berkeley get to share a lot of inadvertently comedic moments together, including a dance at a local night club, and a dance off/seduction in James’ run down flat. Esterhas writes himself in to a corner with James as he’s introduced, seems to be Nomi’s path to redemption, and is very swiftly pushed out of the narrative in favor of a rushed and silly climax involving Nomi’s revenge on a pop star. The enigmatic Nomi also catches the eye of show headliner Cristal Connors (the stunning Gina Gershon), a bisexual goddess who is committed to her boyfriend (Kyle MacLachlan looks hilarious with his spray tan and capped teeth) but also has a cat and mouse sexual tension with Nomi.
She loves to tease her endlessly, but also seems genuinely romantically interested in her time and time again. Her characterization is wholly inconsistent just like everything else in this script. All things considered, (believe it or not!) “Showgirls” is quite erotic and arousing in brief instances. Berkeley’s body is fantastic and she manages to shine among everyone else, especially in the infamous sex scene with Kyle MacLachlan in his pool. That scene has to be witnessed to be believed, as I’m stunned anyone was able to keep a straight face during it.
“Showgirls” is god fucking awful. It’s rancid, raucously dumb, and almost unwatchable at times. I literally had to watch the movie in half hour increments just to save my sanity. Everyone here deserved better and has been in so much better, but “Showgirls” at least packs enough cringe and camp to where it almost begs to be seen.
It’s an experience you’ll laugh about for days.