You think the girls are naked in Paul Verhoeven's sublimely vulgar camp classic? Wait'll you see their ambition.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Starring Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan and Gina Gershon
MGM/UA; widescreen, 2:35.1 aspect ratio
Extras: Theatrical trailer, making-of featurette, scene selection, languages
Halfway through “Showgirls,” a Vegas dancer who’s feuding with one of her fellow chorines scatters round glass beads on stage during a performance, causing an accident that puts her rival out of commission. It’s a pussy-eat-pussy world out there.
Truly campy movies are funny because they don’t know how ridiculous they are. But then how do you explain “Showgirls,” a camp classic that knows exactly what it’s doing? Slick, juicy and hilarious, “Showgirls” uses the sleaze of Las Vegas for what’s essentially a porny remake of “All About Eve.” The catfighting reaches its heights in the scratch-fests between Elizabeth Berkley’s Nomi (!), the eager and stacked young thing out to make it as a Vegas show dancer at any cost, and Gina Gershon’s deliciously bitchy Cristal (!!), the established star she’ll have to dethrone to realize her dream.
Most Hollywood movies that promise backstage titillation pull back in some crucial way. Either they get coy about nudity and sex or they offer an uplifting ending to show just what empty lives the characters lead. Director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas wouldn’t have any of that. “Showgirls” is as amoral as its heroine is. (Say what you will about Berkley, she’s game. Her performance is poised between the dewy-fresh and the lubricious: Try to imagine Jenna Jameson doing an ad for feminine hygiene spray.) Watching the movie, or the brief making-of featurette included in this DVD (which goes out of its way to sell the picture as a feat of breathless daring), you can see that Verhoeven and Eszterhas had too much fun wallowing in all the bed-hopping and back-stabbing to pass judgment on it. They spare us the phony shock Hollywood usually indulges in.
The movie is vulgar all right, sublimely vulgar. And yes, it’s as ludicrous as you’ve heard, particularly in the production number where a nude, spangled Gershon rises out of a volcano while her acolytes simulate copulation in homage. But if you think Verhoeven and Eszterhas don’t know just how phony this world is, take a look at the shot of Nomi brooding (or what passes for it) in front of a mock-up of the Sphinx and the pyramids. Vegas, in this movie, looks as if Disney had opened a new theme park called Tittyworld. That was part of the reaction against the movie. Verhoeven didn’t use the NC-17 rating to give us the sober, adult movies the classification was meant to ensure; instead, he went at his subject with the gusto of a born exploiter run amok. But “Showgirls” piles on the dish that you want from a snake’s-eye view of showbiz. It’s a trash feast. There are certainly better movies than “Showgirls,” but there aren’t many as deliriously entertaining.
Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger. More Charles Taylor.
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