Reviews

Showgirls: Cheesecake, With Emphasis on the Cheese

Is Showgirls truly one of the worst movies ever made? Not quite, but it may be the most unintentionally funny.


Showgirls

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon, Glenn Plummer, Robert Davi
Distributor: MGM
Release Date: 2010-06-15

So much has been said about how bad Showgirls is that it is almost a cliché to wax poetic about its poor writing, laughable overacting, and garish production values. If viewed as a straight and serious drama as the filmmakers intended for it to be seen, the film is indeed quite terrible for the aforementioned reasons.

If, however, you are a fan of exploitation films and the camp aesthetic in the vein of so-bad-it’s-good, then as a piece of entertainment Showgirls might have just what you need for an amusing late night film party. Depending on how you choose to view it, you might see one of the worst big-budget studio films of all time, or quite possibly the most unintentionally funny.

The first and only NC-17 rated film to be given a wide release in mainstream theaters, Showgirls was released in 1995 to much hype and even greater disappointment. Costing around $45 million and grossing only $20 million, the shock value marketing technique was a clear failure. After winning several Razzie awards and becoming a symbol for Hollywood’s indulgent worst, the film’s fortunes changed after reaching home video. People began seeing the film ironically for its cheese, gloss, and outlandish scenes, generating $100 million from rentals and turning the film into an unexpected cult classic.

Elizabeth Berkley of Saved by the Bell fame stars as Nomi Malone, a fierce young woman with a mysterious past who hitchhikes her way to Las Vegas to chase her dreams of being a dancer. After having her luggage stolen and subsequently attempting suicide (because losing one's luggage is traumatic), a seamstress named Molly (Gina Ravera) offers to take Nomi in.

Although Nomi considers herself to be a dancer, she makes money as a stripper at a sleazy topless club. She dreams of being a Vegas showgirl at Stardust, where dancer Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon) reigns as the supreme diva. When both Cristal and her entertainment director boyfriend Zack Carey (Kyle MacLachlan) take an interest in Nomi, things get even more complicated between the three. The majority of the film follows Nomi as she experiences the highs and lows of becoming a showgirl, as well as the pain and decadence that goes with it.

Having previously struck box-office gold with the 1992 erotic thriller Basic Instinct, things didn’t quite work the same for director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas this time around. For a screenplay that sold for $2 million, Eszterhas’s eternal embarrassment was also a big paycheck grab for him. For how poor Berkley’s exaggerated and erratic acting is, it’s pretty hard to deliver a lot of these lines with any form of sincerity. Even veteran actor MacLachlan and his goofy hairdo can’t escape this bad production, and it doesn’t help that Verhoeven’s bombastic directing makes everything feel so forced to the point of hilarity.

A distinctive characteristic of Showgirls is that you really can’t believe what you’re seeing as the film progresses. From unexpected places -- such as the forced and awkward sexual tension between Cristal and Nomi, to the infamous pool sex scene and the misplaced and offensive rape -- there’s a humor to be found in the film when one considers the context of production. To think that a group of creative minds actually believed this film could be taken seriously is in itself an achievement. Not to mention the fact that they got a studio to back it with a fairly sizeable budget. They should praise the heavens that an audience out there gave this piece of trash a chance and found some kind of worth in it, even if it wasn’t the reaction they intended.

Making its way to Blu-ray for the first time, MGM marks the 15th anniversary of the film with the fittingly titled “Sinsational Edition”. Although the slipcase looks great and the package comes with both Blu-ray and DVD, this release is much less appealing than the 2004 V.I.P. edition which included shot glasses, a poster, and a deck of playing cards. Nonetheless, the film looks pristine and positively sleazy in this high definition transfer. Much of the features were found on previous discs, including a fun commentary track, a couple production featurettes, and interestingly, two segments focusing on pole dancing and lap dancing. All in all, it’s a fairly decent package, but unfortunately it's lacking participation from anyone involved in the production.

Ultimately, Showgirls tried to be a smart, edgy, erotic, and emotional film, but failed to accomplish any of those tasks. Sure, it was a giant mess and a public embarrassment, but just like a political sex scandal, there’s plenty of humor to be found. As the years have gone by, so have the intensely cynical criticisms of Showgirls, which have now been replaced with a sense of irony and sarcasm that has given the film a second life on home video. Failure can be a crippling thing, but somehow Showgirls managed to turn it into a lasting success.

4

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.