Showgirls is a 1995 American drama film directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring former teen actress Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, and Gina Gershon. The film centers around a street-smart drifter who ventures to Las Vegas and climbs the seedy hierarchy from stripper to showgirl. Produced on a then-sizable budget of approximately $45 million, significant controversy and hype surrounding the film's amounts of sex and nudity preceded its theatrical release. In the United States, the film was rated NC-17 for "nudity and erotic sexuality throughout, some graphic language and sexual violence." Showgirls was the first NC-17 rated film to be given a wide release in mainstream theaters. Distributor United Artists dispatched several hundred staffers to theaters across North America playing Showgirls in order to assure that patrons would not be sneaking into the theater from other films, and to make sure the filmgoers were over the age of 17. Despite a poor theatrical and critical consensus, Showgirls enjoyed success on the home video market, generating more than $100 million from video rentals and became one of MGM's top 20 all-time bestsellers.
It’s so bad it’s good. But hey, it ain’t that good.ay?
Showgirls is the capper in writer Joe Eszterhas’ storied career. First came Flashdance. Then he shocked us with Basic Instinct. Then he writes Showgirls, an ultra-explicit NC-17 drama about a Las Vegas showgirl who goes from nobody to ‘Goddess’ by playing the Power Game better than everyone else.
No longer the innocent wallflower from Saved By the Bell, Elizabeth Berkley has been transformed (by an excellent plastic surgeon) into Nomi Malone, a sexy vamp who is nothing but trouble. This role is going to haunt Berkley for the rest of her life, if not longer, largely due to the fact that she is pretty much naked in every scene. We’re talking Totally Nude, no holds barred. And not just Berkley, there’s a whole harem of strippers to support her. They parade around in their scanties so much (and so well) that it’s pretty easy to forget about little details like plot, acting, and character development.
Not that these things really exist in Showgirls. The plot is typical Eszterhas: Nomi has a shady past and wants to start over. A whole bunch of slimy guys get in her way. And Eszterhas is never one to forget to throw in a little lesbian subplot (in this case, with Gina Gershon, as Nomi’s arch-rival Cristal). The acting is as much as one can expect from essentially two-dimensional characters, most of which are carbon copies of each other. Thankfully, Nomi holds our attention well thanks to her ta-tas, and Berkley hams up the role so much, she becomes incredibly fun to watch. It’s all so very, very bad that you can’t help but love it.
The ridiculous sets also make the film worthwhile. Director Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall) slices open his faux underbelly of Sin City for all to see. We’re on the stage when Nomi makes her big entrances; everything is raw and vivid. There’s no sense of ‘seduction across a crowded room.’ It’s laid out in Technicolor through a two word image: pure lust, or at least as a Dutch film director sees it. And lest you start to take anything in this movie (or this review) seriously, be advised that this is all pure camp. Showgirls is fun, utter nonsense in the vein of Rocky Horror, as long as you don’t take any of it seriously.
In closing, I feel compelled to say something meaningful about gratuitous nudity and sex in American cinema, but I won’t. Yes, it’s extreme and it’s completely silly, but this story really won’t work any other way. (And after 45 minutes, you really don’t notice any more.) Did I mention silly? I love it!
MGM finally recognizes the camp value of the film and pulls out all the stops in its ‘VIP Limited Edition’ of Showgirls, an enormous box set that turns Showgirls from a movie into a party experience. The film itself includes a hysterical commentary by David Schmader (who has a travelling monologue about the movie) called ‘The Greatest Movie Ever Made,’ plus a pop-up trivia track that offers juicy insights such as Elizabeth Berkley’s total time in the film spent naked (20 minutes, 1 second). Skeptical video commentary from real strippers is also included during the film. The rest of the box includes a collection of party games such as pin the pasties on the stripper (blindfold included also), and a pair of shot glasses and game instructions for various Showgirls-themed drinking games. (Though note, the rules are strict that the shots should include non-alcoholic beverages. It’s almost as ridiculous as the movie itself.) Highly recommended.
Sometimes you just gotta lick the pole.