Why am I reviewing Showgirls? Didn’t I already discuss it (briefly)? Well, there are three reasons. The first is to steel my nerves – as Oscar season is officially over, I will have to watch some terrible films in theaters. Better get a head start so that I am prepared. The second reason is based on something Pauline Kael once wrote – “we cannot understand great art without understanding great trash.” The last few days have been my examining great art. I guess now is as good a time as any to try to explore “great” trash.
The third reason is that it’s set to expire from Netflix Instant later this month. A little trivial, but you would be surprised what an enormous motivator that is.
The film is basically (as many have pointed out) a remake of the classic All About Eve. But instead of being about the theater world, it’s about Vegas dancers. And it’s only told from one perspective. And the dialogue is worse. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. A girl named Nomi (Elizabeth Berkley from Saved By the Bell) goes to Vegas, tries to become involved in a show led by Zach (Kyle McLaughlin, who I guess was at the stage where he desperately needed the check to clear) and finds a rivalry with another dancer named Cristal (Gina Gershon) who takes on the Bette Davis role. And, baring a few inexplicable scenes of unappealing sex and a gratuitous rape subplot (in which one of Nomi’s friends is violated by a famous musician) that’s about it.
A film like this is quite challenging. I know it is a bad film and am not going to try to say otherwise. But like Heaven’s Gate, the film has something that most other bad films do not even try to possess – a vision. This is Paul Verhoeven’s film (and, to a lesser extent, Joe Eszterhas’) film from beginning to end. They failed, but they at least tried and had a point they wanted to get across. Unlike the typical committee design of the average blockbuster, it possesses a singular vision that is easy to see. Also, it is never boring.
Well, I have praised the film as much as I need to, so let’s talk failure. The character of Nomi Malone (har har) is among the most bizarre I have ever seen. I cannot even blame this on Berkley – she appears to be doing exactly what she was ordered to do. But the character changes personalities on a whim. At times she is the naive Pollyanna (a term that is even used to describe her), at other times she is a tough as nails woman who seems to have been carved from the mind of Russ Meyer. She is nice and gentle at times, angry and violent at others. Is she meant to be bi-polar? I don’t know. I do know that it doesn’t add any sort of complexity to the proceedings. Her character is the primary reason why the screenplay doesn’t work. I could talk about the terrible dialogue, the unnecessary subplots, and the stupid villains. But Nomi Malone is so poorly thought out that I could think of nothing else.
What about the rest? After all, People do not watch this film to wax poetic about any “nuanced” performances. People want to see the naked women and the numerous dance sequences. Well, think about that goal for a second. A film exists to show beautiful women to wearing as little as possible. Yes, it’s the sort of grind house film that was made in the seventies. Now, I am not saying that those are devoid of merit. But that is what they had to resort to to receive a modicum of attention, and it shows. Showgirls had a Hollywood budget and one of the highest paid screenwriters ever behind it. That is why the film fails. People in this position know better. Making a film like this is detrimental to their skill, We know they can do better, so it is an insult when they do not.
Besides, those moments are not even cleverly planned out. The nudity is unerotic (to the point where I felt Nomi looked better wearing skimpy clothes) and the relationships between the characters is so two-dimensional that is threatens to implode upon itself. And the sex scenes…well I am not going to try to go there. The film tries to arouse, but fails.
This film is not as bad as its reputation presents itself. No film with ambition can be. In the right hands, this film would have been worthwhile. But the filmmakers were so caught up in their own hype that they didn’t bother to say no to each other. Had this film decided to treat itself as a joke (as the audience did), it would now be considered some great post modern classic. Quentin Tarantino has built his career making films like this. But he knows not to try to play the material straight – there is always a twinkle in his eye that is visible in every frame. That twinkle is not present here. What’s left is a dopey script and a bunch of campy performances that make one of the greatest unintentional comedies of all time. It’s an exploitation film, pure and simple. If only the filmmakers had bothered to acknowledge it.
I will say this though – the soundtrack (which includes such phenomenal artists as Prince, David Bowie, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and U2) is quite good. In fact, I would recommend buying it if you can find it anywhere.