Starring: Elizabeth Berkley, Gina Gershon, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Ravera, Alan Rachins, Robert Davi
Rated NC-17 for Nudity and Erotic Sexuality Throughout, and for Some Graphic Language and Sexual Violence
Leave Your Inhibitions At The DoorThat tagline (also occasionally followed by "The Show is About to Begin"), paired with a nude woman on a black background whose naughty bits are covered, represents the poster for "Showgirls," the first movie widely released with the NC-17 "adults only" rating. Sadly, for lovers of movies not altered by demands from the MPAA (although I have to admit that an NC-17 is at least defensible due to a graphic rape scene), the film bombed (but it did great on video), letting the film remain burdened with the nickname "kiss of death."
The film is a mix of "All About Eve" (an overrated film if you ask me) and "42nd Street." Spice it up with copious amounts of nudity and sleaze, you get "Showgirls." It's not a bad place to start for a movie about Las Vegas strippers, but it's saddled with flat performances and a script that is unbelievably, irredeemably bad.
Nomi Malone (Berkley) is a small town girl with a bad past. After being picked up (and then ditched) by a creep who gives her a ride, she meets Molly (Ravera), with whom she becomes fast friends. She gets a job at the Cheetah Lounge as a stripper, but through Molly she meets Cristal Conners (Gershon), the star dancer at the Stardust. The bisexual Cristal is smitten, and gets her a role as a dancer. But Nomi is ambitious, and eventually she comes head to head with Cristal.
"Uneven" is a better word to describe "Showgirls" than bad. There are scenes don't work, but there are some that do. The tete-a-tete between Nomi and Cristal is occasionally interesting, mainly due to the scenery chewing Gershon does. It would be more interesting if her co-star could match her, but Berkley is uneven. She's fine as a starry-eyed kid looking to hit the big time, but when she bares her teeth (Nomi has a temper problem), she goes over the top. Ironically, she doesn't win in the "over-the-top" category. That distinction goes to Kyle MacLachlan, who is never credible. The only good performances are given by Gina Ravera, who is surprisingly sweet, and Lin Tucci, who plays Nomi's appropriately-named friend from the Cheetah Lounge.
I like Paul Verhoeven's work. He knows what he's doing, and has created some fun films. "Basic Instinct" is a fun ride the first time you see it (unlike "Seven" or "From Hell," it's not really worth revisiting once you know who the killer is), and "Starship Troopers" is hugely entertaining (if you can make Casper van Dien look perfectly cast, you've got it made). His last (thus far) film is "Black Book," which is just short of a masterpiece. But he's working with a sub-par script and I don't think he knows what to do with it. There are times when it seems like he's trying to make an intentionally campy movie, but other times the film wants to be taken seriously.
For all the sex and nudity, the film lacks any true eroticism. It's all too over-the-top (as the late great Roger Ebert put it, "If all lap dancers get as carried away as Nomi does, I'll bet they're constantly seeing a chiropractor about their backs."). "Showgirls" is all about the instant gratification. Sure it looks nice (the shows themselves are impressive), but if you want something that is truly sexy, you have to build the heat. One might claim that my sexual orientation indicates bias, but remember that I fully believe that the portrait-drawing scene in "Titanic" is the sexiest scene in any movie I've seen.
"Showgirls" isn't as bad as its reputation suggests. Nor is it a camp classic. It's just a mediocre movie that doesn't deserve any of the attention it gets. If you're looking for great nudity and great cinema, better go with "Mrs. Henderson Presents."