Yeah… this is the horror film I chose for the end of Horror Week. What do you mean it’s not a horror film? Scared the shite out of me. I kid. It is awful though. Also it’s Randy Meeks from the Scream films favorite scary movie. So let’s look at Showgirls, the film, not the dancers in Las Vegas. Of course when I’m done reviewing the film feel free to send me a few plane tickets to Vegas so I can compare to the real thing… You know, for science.
So Showgirls is often derided as being the worst film of all time. That’s a massively untrue statement. There are many far worse films out there. It could acceptably be called the worst film by a high profile director though. I’d say there’s worse that would fit that bill but Showgirls would be an acceptable answer. Does it have any points of merit? A few. Does it have plenty of awful? Good god yes. Does it deserve all the mocking it has received over the years? Yes, yes it does.
Showgirls tells the story of a bipolar girl named Nomi (Elizabeth Berkley from Saved By The Bell!) who at the very start of the film feels the need to tell us that she’s going to be a dancer. I say she’s bipolar because she switches from happy to angry as though someone is turning hot and cold taps on and off in her brain every 5 seconds. She makes her way to Vegas via the medium of hitch-hiking and soon finds herself sans luggage and a place to live. Luckily the owner of a car she started assaulting decides that she enjoys the company of a child in a woman’s body and takes her in. Fast forward 6 weeks, for some reason, and Nomi is working at a seedy strip club but has already seen the delights of the showgirl dancers of the films title and wants nothing more than to be one of them and she’ll stop at nothing to reach that goal.
So let’s say that I’ve basically summed up the first 25 minutes. What has gone wrong so far? First Nomi isn’t introduced to us so much as she’s plonked on our screens at the very starts. She picks up a ride with a smile on her face, pulls a knife on the driver for trying to hit on the girl he picked up at the side of the road that clearly isn’t wearing a bra and wants everyone to know. She then smiles and tells him with her best gusto that she is going to be a dancer. By which she means stripper, but that’s apparently not what she does. The girl she meets on her first night in Vegas, Molly (Gina Ravera), takes her in even though she has thrown not one, but two child like tantrums. Nomi even throws her food in the the air in a strop like a 4 year old would.
Next Nomi goes with Molly to see the showgirls at the Goddess show that Molly works as a seamstress for. This is fine except that we have no idea what Nomi’s work is right now, we know she works but not where, so her enthralled state at the sight of the show is hard to take in because we haven’t seen what conditions she is working at currently. We get that she wants to be part of the show but we don’t know if her current situation is bad. Whilst backstage at the Goddess show she meets the star Cristal (Gina Gershon) and in the space of 10 seconds goes from being in awe of her to running out in a strop because Cristal said something a little bit snide. At this point I am unsure who we’re meant to side with here. Molly seems to be the one decent person in the film but she has no arc other than to make the dresses and meet a singer called Andrew Carver. Cristal is the typical bitchy celebrity character who seems to want Nomi on her show because she’s attracted to her but then she goes out of her way to antagonise her. Nomi is a annoying combination of giddy valley girl glee and child like temper tantrums. Basically no character is actually likeable in any way except for Molly who’s just there.
Eventually we find out what Nomi is hiding and the truth just falls plain flat. It makes sense in the context of the plot but it means nothing. She’s already put herself into a point of no return by then so the revelation has no effect on the plot. If we were in on her secret from the start then maybe we’d have some sympathy for her, but we aren’t so we don’t. The film features a lot of hollow conflict. Arguments and drama that exist solely to fill out the run time and are usually resolved in a unsatisfactory manner or with Nomi storming off somewhere. What was the point of her relationship with the James character? He said he would teach her to dance, to which she threw a strop at such an insinuation that she needed teaching. Apparently she had no training and is the most natural dancer he’s ever seen. Nothing comes from this. They do a short dance together in place of a sex scene because, not kidding, she’s on her period. That leads to him banging another stripper, they argue, later they make up. Why don’t they work together to help her become the type of dancer the club wants? It could have been her chance for a training montage.
Instead she waltz’s (no pun intended) into the job and then continues to be a bitch the whole way to anyone that wants to help her. This film could have told 1 of 2 stories. 1) The story of a troubled girl who trains real hard to be the best dancer and works her way to the top proving the star of the show wrong along the way and earning her spot. Or 2) A story involving a troubled girl who starts off basically good but gradually is seduced into backstabbing and treachery to get where she wants to before the inevitable fall from grace. The first would have been formulaic but it would have at least worked. The second would have been Scarface with strippers but it would fit the seedy world director Paul Verhoven was trying to create. Instead we get an attempt to do the latter but we’re never sure if Nomi is becoming a bad person or not because one minute she’s being a bitch and the next she’s being all happy with her friends.
It’s the lack of well defined character and a plot with understandable motivations that lead this film to just fall over itself constantly. You’re never attached to the characters. Story arcs fall flat on their face at what should be the payoff and the entire third act is just a mess of events and alleged revelations that nothing feels conclusive. There’s also an odd number of scenes committed to telling us how great Nomi’s breasts are. It’s real important that we know this so multiple characters need to talk about it. There’s one scene where she’s asked to put ice on her nipples to make them erect. She has a problem with this. Which is odd seeing as she takes her clothes off and as one character puts it “dances like she’s fucking” for a living. You’d think she’d be less prudish about such a thing. Also listen out for a great moment of foreshadowing in the early stages of the film when a character mentions sarcastically that it would be terrible if Cristal were to fall down the stairs. not to ruin the film but… DUM DUM DUUUUUM!!!! That’s exactly what happens later. 10/10 screenwriter Joe Eszterhas! You’ve schooled us all on the subtle art of foreshadowing there!
Cinematography is effective but nothing exceptional. The dance sequences are shot well enough and they actually do serve to progress the story which is how it should be. There’s a running gag with a big ladies dressed rigged to expose her breasts on command that I can’t tell if it’s meant to be funny or tragic the 10th time it’s played out. The film is basically two hours of flip flopping emotions padded out with an incredible amount of nudity. Even Kyle MacLachlan gets his arse out for the ladies just before what has to be one of the most ridiculous sex scenes ever committed to film. it’s like watching to seals fighting in a jacuzzi.
Showgirls is not a good film at all. It’s so ineffective thanks to it’s terrible script that even Paul Verhoven operating at his peak couldn’t have saved it. The film is a prime example of how story and character are key to a films critical success. What doesn’t help is that everyone seems to be phoning in their performances, except for Elizabeth Berkley who I really believe was giving it her all. Which is sad when you think about it. Because she’s awful. She could play a believable child though. Provided she could keep her clothes on that is. There’s plenty more to complain about in this film, but that would just be beating a dead hooker. So yeah, Showgirls. It’s a bit shit.