Showgirls (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

In 1990, the MPAA introduced the NC-17 rating to provide an outlet for legitimate adult fare -- non-pornographic motion pictures with content deemed too strong for the under-17 crowd. The first movie released with an NC-17 was Henry and June, whose financial failure was widely blamed on the new rating. After that, all potentially-lucrative films receiving an NC-17 made the cuts required by the MPAA to earn an R. Now, in 1995, there's Showgirls, the most significant test of the NC-17's commercial viability to date. Helmed by Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, Basic Instinct) and written by Joe Eszterhas (Jagged Edge, Basic Instinct), this movie is going into wide release with the adult rating. Too bad it's one of the worst films of the year.

Curiosity will undoubtedly pull in a fair number of movie-goers, especially on the first weekend. Other than that, though, there's nothing about Showgirls to lure viewers. This film is like a shiny, red apple that's rotten to the core -- despite slick direction and a glossy sheen, it reeks of decay. Showgirls isn't a good drama, a good thriller, or even good pornography. It's hard to imagine that the picture will appeal to anyone, and unclear whether there's any future for the NC-17 rating if Showgirls rightfully bombs at the box office.

Saved by the Bell actress Elizabeth Berkley has the lead role, and her lack of feature experience shows. She was obviously chosen more for what she would show than for acting ability. And, by the end of the two-hour plus running time, there's very little Berkley hasn't given the audience at least a peek at. Verhoeven has never been a subtle director, and his fixation with naked body parts makes one wonder if he might not have potential as a hard-core director.

Showgirls is a cold, soulless, misogynistic motion picture. There isn't anything to like about the thinly-drawn, stereotyped characters, and the situations they drift through are far from engrossing. Showgirls has one aim only: to suck in money. Artistic integrity, intelligent scripting, heart-felt acting, and sincere film making are all absent. Everything -- from the overall plot to individual lines of dialogue -- is predictable and poorly-written.

Nomi Malone (Berkley) is a dancer on her way to Vegas with hopes of joining a chorus line. Even before she gets her first job, though, she learns that sex and drugs are the only currency anyone really uses. But she's a tough woman with a killer body and an ugly past, and she knows what has to be done to make headway. She starts working as a lap dancer at a strip club, but has her sights set higher. And when the big-name star of a local show (Gina Gershon) and a hotel talent director (Kyle MacLachlan) take an interest in her raw -- ahem -- abilities, her prospects suddenly appear brighter.

As bad as the first ninety minutes of this film are, the last thirty are worse. The closing quarter of Showgirls is distasteful in every way -- from its gratuitous violence to its illogical plotting. The final scenes are intended to teach something about ethics, but that's a hypocritical stance for a motion picture without a moral compass.

This year's other picture about lap dancing, Atom Egoyan's Exotica, was everything Showgirls is not: sensitive, intelligent, erotic, and well-acted. It's almost a disservice to the fine Canadian film to mention it in the same review as the Verhoeven/Eszterhas monstrosity, but certain superficial similarities are too obvious to ignore. But, where Exotica was full of mystery and emotion, Showgirls is a hollow shell -- false, mechanical, and entirely despicable in intent and execution.

Showgirls (United States, 1995)

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Glenn Plummer, Gina Gershon, Robert Davi, Gina Raveri
Screenplay: Joe Eszterhas
Cinematography: Jost Vacano
Music: David A. Stewart
U.S. Distributor: United Artists
Run Time: 2:11
U.S. Release Date: 1995-09-22
MPAA Rating: "NC-17" (Nudity, Sexual Situations, Profanity, Violence)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1