Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley) is a drifter hitchhiking her way to Vegas in the hopes of becoming a showgirl. After her ride cheats her out of her money, she bumps into Molly Abrams (Gina Ravera), a costumer designer at the Stardust Casino. It’s there that Nomi meets Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon), the diva star of Stardust’s topless dance revue. Cristal’s first impression on meeting Nomi isn’t much, likening the dancing Nomi does at the nearby Cheetah Club to hooking. From that moment, a rivalry between the two forms.
Out with her boyfriend and Stardust entertainment director Zack Cary (Kyle MacLachlan), Cristal witnesses Nomi in action while attending the Cheetah Club. She offers Nomi a chance to audition for a spot in her revue, to which she excitedly accepts. Cristal’s intentions, though, may not be as pure as they appear.
This film is popularly known for being the first NC-17 rated film to be given a wide theatrical release. It’s even more well known for Miss Jessie Spano from Saved by the Bell getting all nasty on us, just two years removed from the TV sitcom.
Principal Belding, what went wrong?
“Time out! Hey, guys, it’s me Zack. The correct question should be, ‘What went right?’ Know what I mean? Too bad that nagging bitch Kelly Kapowski’s been riding my ass ever since she found those sexting photos I got from Jessie on my phone. Next thing you know, she’s got my ass out on the streets and I’m sleeping on a piss stained mattress at Screech’s studio apartment… Okay, time in!”
Basically, Showgirls is what you’d get if you combined Lifetime with late-night Cinemax. It tries kicking and screaming to be some sort of satirical take on the Las Vegas underbelly, but winds up being so unintentionally funny, it fails to be satire.
Then again, lines like, “I like having nice tits.”, really contain brilliant subtext when you stop and analyze it.
This is the type of film that embarrasses and destroys careers. Prior to this film, Kyle MacLachlan actually had a pretty decent resume lining up as a David Lynch regular in the TV series Twin Peaks and his films Dune and Blue Velvet. He also starred as the late, iconic rock keyboardist Ray Manzarek in Oliver Stone’s The Doors. Then he did that Flinstones movie and if that didn’t put the breaks on his career, Showgirls – well it didn’t either. It figured, why not go soaring off a cliff? It’s rumored MacLachlan was so embarrassed at the screening, he walked out midway through the film. He ended up going on record, saying he didn’t walk out, but suffered through the entire two hours.
Gina Gershon gives a wildly over-acted performance where she smirks non-stop and delivers her lines like she really, really, really, oh so really wants you to know how devious and sultry and (or) drunk she is. To think, not long after this, she landed a role in Michael Mann’s superb The Insider. It’s not a big role by any means, but I still have a feeling when Mann was combing through Gershon’s filmography, this film wasn’t the one that made him stop and go, “Oh, yeah… We need this girl… She likes nice tits.”
Then we have Elizabeth Berkley. I don’t know what the casting heads saw in her, especially when her experience prior to this film was a TV show aimed at kids and teenagers. Maybe they were watching Saved by the Bell and thought, “This girl would make an excellent slut in our film.” Whatever the reason or motive for casting her, the fact is she can’t act. They would’ve gotten better results if they went with someone that wasn’t even good enough for porn acting. To say she tries too hard to shed that “Kid’s sitcom” image is an understatement. I mean, she goes for broke, shoots for the moon, pretty much all the above. It’s a role that aims to be sexy and erotic, but the only wood to be found within a five mile radius of Berkley is the one found in her performance. It’s quite a feat, though, to display five different emotions – angry, happy, sad, aroused, and excited – with just one facial expression. That explains why she has to jump up and down a lot. Director Paul Verhoeven probably, and rightfully, thought she couldn’t act her way through a gigantic, wide open door, so when the scene called for Nomi to be really happy, he just had her jump up and down, flail her arms about and laugh a lot.
That, and take her top off.
Hey, cool. They like to eat at Joe’s Crab Shack – oh, wait. Now I get it.
We also get Robert Davi (of Goonies and Die Hard fame) as the lowlife Cheetah Club owner – surprisingly, he’s probably the most likeable character of the bunch – who follows up a heartfelt scene (or at least it wants to be) with the most “stick out like a sore thumb” line in the entire film and L.A. Law’s Alan Rachins as the venue’s prick director, who’s such a prick, he has to remind everyone that he’s a prick. Not only that, he has to get reminded by others that he’s a prick.
I’m guessing he’s a prick. Susan Day probably thought the same thing.
What Verhoeven saw in this, I don’t know. Before Showgirls, Verhoeven burst onto the scene in America with RoboCop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct – all entertaining films. Maybe he figured Basic Instinct wasn’t steamy enough, so he’d ratchet it “up to 11″ as Nigel Tufnel would advise. He was able to bounce back a little bit with the entertaining Starship Troopers, but his career was never the same again.
Both Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas (re-teaming after Basic Instinct) create one erotic scenario after another that are so over-the-top it makes those late-night Cinemax shows look like The 700 Club with Pat Robertson. For striving so desperately to be as erotic as it wishes to be, it ends up working like reverse Viagra. My libido either died of boredom or my laughter suffocated it while watching this film. Even with more crotch grinding, topless women than you can count, this film probably couldn’t even succeed in hardening even the horniest 12 year old, puberty infested boy out there. That’s probably ’cause that boy, like me, is debating whether Nomi’s giving the sexiest lap dance of all lap dances or just having a horrendous seizure.
I’m not kidding. I couldn’t tell the difference.
I’m sure Showgirls was trying to make some point about how ruthless the Vegas entertainment system can be, but it gets lost somewhere in between the stale acting, laughable dialogue, incompetent and one-dimensional characters and the soundtrack that sounds like it was ripped from Melrose Place. Showgirls has, over time, developed a cult-film status like most other trashy films of its kind tend to do. It’s greatest achievement, though, is quite possibly killing off more careers than the Great Depression.