Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Showgirls (1995)

Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Starring Elizabeth Berkley, Gina Gershon, Kyle Machlachan

"I'm erect. Why aren't you erect?"

Created by the zillionaire writing/directing team of Joe Eszterhas and Paul Verhoeven - who had recently struck box office gold with Basic Instinct - Showgirls was meant to be an epic Hollywood spectacle filled with flesh, flash and heart-rending melodrama. Budgeted at a comfortable 45 million dollars - including 2 million that went right into Eszterhas's pocket for his screenwriting fee - the movie does, indeed, deliver on that promise. But it's so much more, as well. Basically the most expensive sexploitation flick ever made, Showgirls straddles so many genres at once - drama, pitch-black comedy, musical, satire, morality tale, softcore, 70s' style rape and revenge - that it means something different to everyone that gazes into it. It's like a reflecting pool, only with bonus vagina.

The story revolves around one Nomi Malone (Saved by the Bell star Elizabeth Berkley, acting as hard as she possibly can) , a tightly-wound spazz prone to kicking inanimate objects and shoving people. Despite her obvious psychosis, she manages to charm everyone who she collides with, including an Elvis-y truck driver who she hitches with to Vegas and a showgirl-revue seamstress named Molly (Gina Ravera), who lets her move in with her in her tiny trailer on the edge of town.

You may ask yourself why someone with a job that probably pays $70,000 a year is living in a trailer, or why she would take a stray like Nomi in - who, incidentally, puked on her the moment they met - but that's the magic of Showgirls. Much like the city it takes place in, the normal laws of physics, gravity, and common sense mean nothing in Showgirls. It exists in its very own reality, a delightfully screwy world where everybody's naked all the time, where women speak of nothing except food and their own breasts, and where men live only to manipulate and humiliate topless dancers. I know, that sounds like an awful place, but really, it's awesome.

Nomi gets a job at a sleazeball strip club called Cheetahs. Eventually Cristal (Gina Gershon), the star of a topless show at the Riveria called Goddess, and her cad of a boyfriend Zack (Kyle MacLachlan) - the entertainment director of the Riveria - get wind of this dramatic new talent, and recruit her for their show. As Nomi's ambition knows no bounds, she kicks and claws her way from background dancer to star in no time flat, and goes head to head with Cristal in the dance-fight to end all dance-fights.

That, of course, is the short version. There's a ton of crazy bullshit that happens along the way. This is really a seeing-is-believing sort of film, so mere descriptions of the non-stop outrage and excess would not do it justice. I mean, this movie has naked girls and monkeys - in the same scene. It's fuckin' bananas.

In summation: A fizzing, career-killing bomb upon its release, over the years Showgirls has been embraced by snarky critics and irony-buffs as a delightfully campy disaster. In fact, it is difficult to find a review anywhere that doesn't, at some point, called Showgirls an aggressively bad film, even while praising its many charms. I do not agree with this assessment. Showgirls is not a bad film, Showgirls is a towering, swaggering epic of tits and screaming, a life-gulping orgy of psychotic behavior, pneumatic fucking, and weird, heavy metal death-fantasy dance sequences. It is a Hollywood cocaine seizure of the highest order. How could a movie possibly be bad when it does not have any boring parts? Showgirls is all id, all snapping jaws and iced-up nipples, and Berkley and Gershon are tremendous and legendary rivals. It is virtually impossible to figure out where their characters end and they begin, or vice-versa - their whole relationship, in the film and on the set, seems fueled by mutual loathing. Also, there are scenes in this film that you will never, ever get out of your head once you've seen them. Nomi's epileptic pool-fuck will probably flash through your head in your final moments. For all these reasons and so many more - Versace! - Showgirls should be lauded for what it really is - a demented masterpiece.

- Ken McIntyre

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