I mean… Sure.
Why not cover 1995’s NC-17 rated, all pomp and circumstance but failed at the box office with a whimper Showgirls? This is directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Joe Eszterhas who had previously teamed up for one of the all time greats in the world of erotic thrillers with 1992’s Basic Instinct and again right away with 1993’s Sliver. Verhoeven was always a big fan of the big musicals from studio MGM and wanted to make one himself. Eszterhas was in one of the worst moments of his life.
This is what you can accomplish with a little hope to make a big musical while your writer buddy is in the deepest dumps of his life. The film obviously is not what most would expect from this duo. Eszterhas has often stated that there were clearly mistakes made. Plus, that whole thing with him being in a dark place meant he wasn’t being as clever or witty as he normally could be. He admitted both he and Verhoeven were probably operating on a great deal of hubris after Basic Instinct was such a success.
What’s funny is that, in time, the movie became a cult hit and there are several willing to re-evaluate it as being not so much a drama but a biting satire of the glitz and glamour of showgirl-ing(?) despite many still feeling it is garish, misogynistic, and downright vile. A lot of the negative reviews tend to be heaped upon the lead star, Elizabeth Berkley (and trust me, we’ll be getting to her very soon). Famed critic Gene Siskel would drag the movie through the mud and even took a swipe at Berkley for not being sexy or interesting in the least – and I’m not sure he meant that from the perspective of her character, but as a person. It was pretty harsh.
But that’s alright, Elizabeth, baby… Ol’ Geoffrey is here to defend you against that mean old Siskel.
As a child of the 80s and a high schooler of the 90s, Saved By the Bell was my jam. I watched that show religiously. In fact, I still crack up when I watch it. I mean it. I unironically love the shit out of Saved By the Bell. One thing a 40-something adult male has in common with his 16 year old version is how attracted he still is to the trio (quatro if you count the brief stint Leah Remini had on the show) of beauties that attended Bayside High.
It’s hard to pick which girl you would have wanted to date. Not because you couldn’t find the personality that would best suit yours, but it would be really, really hard to remain faithful to just one of those girls. They were so lovable. Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) was posh and perfectly put together. Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) was the perfect beach/surfer girl with a ridiculously sexy body. Jessie Spano (Berkley) was the straight-laced one who seemed like she was about seven feet tall.
Each girl fit a particular mood or situation for me. However, probably the girl I would have most likely been with was Berkley’s Spano. I like a girl who would have kept me on the right path with school and shit. I was a fuckin’ slacker, man. She also had that sexy curly hair too. Jessie would have made sure I studied, and then probably would have made out with me at the end of each study session, and then before she went home, would have likely dunked a basketball over my poor defensive abilities in the paint – well, that and the fact I would have looked like a Smurf next to her.
I’ve mentioned before that the mid-90s were an interesting time for me. What with all the girls I had crushes on starting to do sexy movies and what have you now that everyone was old enough to get behind the idea. The knowledge that my early crushes were now grown ups doing grown up things was thanks to my time working at a video store. Also, in 1995, I was seeing a ton of movies. So knowledge of this movie starring Jessie Spano as a showgirl that was getting a shit ton of buzz because it would be the most expensive NC-17 movie ever did not escape my notice. It was hard to find a theater in Indianapolis that would play an NC-17 movie in 1995, so I would bide my time for the video release…
And it was a weird movie, man.
But obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing about it now. Let’s talk NC-17 real quick before we take off for Las Vegas and the glamorous and sexy world of the showgirl. Up until around 1990, the film ratings system went from G (General Audiences) to X (no children under 18 permitted). Most movies were PG, PG-13, or R through the 80s. X was usually a death sentence for a movie – to a certain extent. Artsy movies like Midnight Cowboy could overcome an X rating, but it was something a horror movie avoided at all costs.
The simple reason why it was something you’d like to miss was twofold. First, many theaters wouldn’t mess with an X rated movie. It’s hard enough to keep kids out of R rated movies. They didn’t want to be policing it any further and they didn’t want angry parents or religious types hanging around giving them shit. Second, X would often be confused with XXX that was applied to adult movies that had actual penetrative sex. The ratings system decided it would just be easier to create a rating that was easier to understand. If no children under 17 would be permitted, NC-17 made the most sense.
Didn’t matter, though. Most movies didn’t want an NC-17 rating because many theaters wouldn’t want to show them even if it was easier to describe. There aren’t many movies that keep their NC-17 rating for theatrical releases. Most of the time, they either make appropriate ratings for an R certification or they surrender it all together (particularly in home video release) and go with “Unrated” instead.
Unrated is not the same as “Not Rated”. Unrated means that it surrendered whatever rating it was given or decided not to pass it through the system. Most of the time it is a little gimmicky to allow for more attention and sales on home video making people think they are getting some a little more taboo than what was allowed in theaters. Not Rated is usually a foreign film that meet certain international family standards or a television program/movie released to theaters or home video.
Now, I’m just getting into the weeds here. Let’s crack open Showgirls and let’s see my beloved Jessie Spano in all her glory!
This 130 MINUTE FUCKING MOVIE starts with the United Artists logo. Generally, when I know I am about to watch a movie that long and it has the United Artists logo at the start, I’m thinking this is gonna be a James Bond movie. This is not a James Bond movie.
No, what we have is Nomi (Berkley) hitchin’ a ride to Vegas with some dude that looks like an Elvis wannabe. He wants her to sit closer. She pulls a knife. This is likely going to be a long 342 mile road trip.
The guy tries to find out what her name is, anything about her, whatever. She doesn’t speak until this guy, Jeff (ay ay ay), peels off the road threatening to dump her out. Finally, she introduces herself. At this point, I understand why this movie didn’t succeed. This is a shitty way to learn anything about the heroine of our movie. You know, the person we should be rooting for? Sure, she’s hot. She wants to dance. I assume she wants to show her titties. All that said, she’s a jerk.
They get to Las Vegas and Jeff tells her that he’s going to go talk to his uncle about maybe getting her a job. He gives her a ten spot and tells her to play the slots. She wins some money, and is convinced to go try the silver dollar slots. She loses all her money, gets propositioned by a sleazebag, and then realizes, “Oh yeah, I haven’t seen that Jeff dude in a while.” She goes out to where he parked and his truck, along with her suitcase is gone. She starts beating the shit out of the car next to where Jeff parked. This is where she meets Molly, a costume designer for a show. Molly buys her a big ass Coke and some fries. Nomi, being as lovable as always, goes nuts.
Six weeks pass, and Nomi and Molly seem pretty close. Molly invites her backstage at a show called Goddess. Here, she watches the lead dancer, Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon). She’s dazzled by the backstage antics and the show itself. I’m dazzled by how many times the characters say the word “snatch” in this scene. They didn’t even try to mix it up with words like beaver, or clam, or muck gutter.
I think most people would agree that the one person who came out the other side of the whole Showgirls thing the most unscathed is Gina Gershon. I think she feels the most natural character as the sort of villain of the whole movie. I feel like she knows exactly what movie she’s in.
I do find it really peculiar, though, that the lead nudie broad in a big, over the top dance show is the talk of the entire town. After Goddess premieres, the local press is all over her wanting to know how old she is, if she’s excited to be back in town, what her plans for Broadway are (like fucking Broadway would have a glorified stripper), and so on and so forth. Is this accurate for what the showgirl lifestyle was if you were the featured dancer? I mean, shit, I am sure in the stripping, burlesque, and showgirl world, headlining a major casino’s show is a big deal, but is it something that people get all up in your face and stuff over? I dunno…
No, I mean it. I don’t know. I don’t do no research for these movies. I don’t know anything about anything in the dance world.
Molly introduces Nomi to Cristal. Molly says that Nomi is a dancer too and is pretty great. Cristal is like, “Is that so? Where you dance, girl?” Nomi says she dances at the Cheetah. Cristal says that she doesn’t know how good of a dancer she is, but if it is there, it’s not dancing. I guess the Cheetah is a strip joint. Nomi tells her to cram it, and runs outside and beats the shit out of a car. Nomi has some serious temper issues. Maybe she doesn’t need to dance. Maybe she needs to, you know, seek professional help? Oh fuck it. She can go dancing.
Like a goddamn crazy person.
She meets a bouncer at this club and dances with him. He’s got skills and tells her that she has potential. He tells her that she’s not really dancing – she is teasing his cock. Because she’s a stripper, right? She kicks him in the nuts which causes him to fall back into a dude and start a bar fight. She gets arrested, but the dude, James, bails her out in the hopes that she will let him teach her better moves. She’s a dick to him.
You know why she’s a dick to him? Because Nomi is a dick. She’s a total asshole to everyone and expects to actually get somewhere. I know there is this ideology that states if you just go through life without letting anything get in the way, you will succeed. You can basically do whatever you want to get wherever it is you want to go. I guess that works in business. Like if you have lots of knowledge of how a market or stocks work or something, you can probably rise to the top of the money mountain or whatever. However, if you are a small fish, you probably don’t want to antagonize the big fish, and you definitely don’t want to piss off other fish that will help school with you and help you get a leg up.
You also don’t want to be a prick in the movie when we’re supposed to be rooting for you.
Anyway, Franz Sanchez is Nomi’s boss at the Cheetah. I guess Bond didn’t do a very good job of blowing him up at the end of Licence to Kill. He introduces a new girl to the other dancers. He calls her Hope, she wants to be called Penny. Penny is important as she will be the lead in a sequel that comes many years later. In fact, the sequel tells us that Penny’s from heaven. Anyway, he’s a total dickwad. On this night, Cristal and boyfriend Zack (Kyle MacLachlan) show up to see Nomi dance.
She… Okay, Nomi… No, Elizabeth Berkley, is smoking hot in this scene. This is what I signed up for 25 years ago. This is what my eyeballs needed to see my favorite Bayside girl do.
Now, admittedly, just like whenever a girl gets naked in front of me, I am a bit confused here. Cristal makes kissy face to Nomi and then she storms off the stage and pisses Sanchez off. She does go back out in her nightie and talks to patrons. She refuses to go by their table or accept their $200 private dance.
They raise their offer to $500 for her to dance for Zack while Cristal watches. She still tries to refuse but Sanchez is there to say that’s a deal. So we get a scene in which I wish I was Kyle MacLachlan to have a totally nude Elizabeth Berkley grind against my crotch while Gina Gershon looks on. She makes him cum his pants.
And by him I do mean him, but I also mean me.
Anyway, the next day, James finds Nomi and Molly’s place and tells her that he can see how much raw fire she has when she dances. I guess all that hurky jerky movements she makes like she’s having a seizure is raw talent. He swears he can make her a star and she won’t have to fuck people in the backroom at a strip club no more. She tries to claim that she didn’t fuck anybody, but he says the greatest line in film history:
It’s such a good line that it gets her thinking. She spends the day with Molly celebrating how close she is to graduating school. They go to Versace and get a little black dress. You know, it’s these scenes with Molly that Nomi acts like a normal human being. She’s seems kind of likable. Later that night, she gets approached by someone from the Stardust to offer her a chance to audition.
She shows up and there’s a whole gaggle of broads there to audition. So she does what she can stand out. The producer comes out and treats the girls like a fucking prick, but I guess that’s okay because he said he would act like a prick from the outset. Nomi gets to the final three mostly because she stands up to the prick for being a prick. I think they’ve said prick now just as much as the word snatch was used earlier. And here comes another moment of nudity and confusion for your humbled author…
They are auditioning for the chorus line in Goddess. Goddess, as previously seen, is a topless show. I mean I saw dozens of boobies in that earlier scene, as well as heard the word snatch more than you would in the movie Snatch. In this audition, the pricky producer picks his final three and tells them to take off their tops. As you might expect if you are auditioning for a nude revue. They all seem confused. Nomi, a stripper by trade, is downright contemptuous over the request to let those melons breathe. What gives?
Anyway, Cristal comes by to watch the girls dance. The producer tells Nomi to play with her tits to make her nipples hard. She tries pinching at them but he brings over a bowl of ice. She angrily knocks it out of his hand and runs off. Nomi figures out that Cristal got her the audition and Cristal says that maybe she likes how Nomi dances. Again… Nomi is a fucking stripper who licks the pole, makes Kyle MacLachlan cream his jeans, and tears Penny’s panties off her body. Why is she so up in arms over this? Okay, she’s angry that she thinks people are treating her like trash and humiliating her. But… Again… Robert Davi is a total pig to her and the other dancers at the Cheetah.
Okay, maybe it’s one of those things where she does the gig at the strip club because she likes dancing and she likes how people react to her dancing. That said, she wants to be a serious dancer and therefore does not want an audition to end up with someone offering to pinch her nipples to make them as hard as the producer is. There would at least be some kind of understanding why she gets upset. She wants to be taken seriously and people treat her like a walking pair of tits with an ass. I think the James guy, who she runs into on her way out of the casino says that to a certain extent.
The problem? We don’t hear this from Nomi directly. Fuck, we’re 45 minutes into this 130 minute movie and we don’t know why she’s so upset. Why she wants to be a dancer. Why she is willing to show her tits at the Cheetah, but gets uppity when it comes to doing so for a major production at a casino. Does she want to be a showgirl or a legitimate dancer of the highest quality? Are showgirls what she thinks is the height of the profession – at least in terms of what she typically does?
This is not how a character is developed. Think about Sharon Stone’s character in Basic Instinct. She was mysterious, but she was meant to be. In between mysterious moments, you see other things that inform you why she is mysterious and why she may or may not be a killer. That made her sexy, but also dangerous. Nomi is sultry, but she has zero refinement as a character. I understand Cristal way more and and more sexually enticed by her and I’m here to see Elizabeth Berkley and find out if she’s on her period or not.
Now I get that this might be gritty and real and shit, but why the fuck do we have to interrupt the potential sex scene between James and Nomi with this? Like, okay, maybe it’s a way to have a missed opportunity between these two people, one who doesn’t love anyone even herself, and another who, at least to this point in the film, is a genuine dude. In a typical melodrama, you could set this up to where he loves her, misses her opportunity to be with him because she becomes a star. But whatever, I guess James is fucking Penny anyway. I guess her having a period and then rebuffing his “I love you” when she was leaving their date was all it took for him to forget all about her.
But then we find out James is a jerkass anyway because he uses all the same lines for all the girls he wants to fuck. Everyone in this world is cynical and a jerk. Except Molly. Molly is cool.
Nothing matters to anything anyway because even though Nomi stormed out of her audition for not wanting to make her nipples erect, she gets the job anyway. She gets to wear her Versace dress and meets the producer and there’s a joke about her pronouncing it phonetically and not how it actually is pronounced. Surprise, surprise, people treat her nicely. The producer, the director, and the line coach/manager all treat her respectably. Even Zack corrects her pronunciation of Versace without being a dick about it. We’re only like an hour into this movie for some decency to come into some characters.
Now, I actually like what happens from this point. She’s coached and worked hard to get her into show shape. But most everyone believes she has what it takes. We then learn she will be in the show that very night. We follow her first night on the show closely. We see her behind the scenes dealing with another show’s escaped monkeys and Nomi is glowing and full of excitement. We follow her through several scenes of the show and see where she makes small mistakes, and make big moves right as she is supposed to. This is maybe the very best sequence in the entire movie. From showing up for work on the first day to going home ecstatic that she has her foot in the door. All this starts to feel like a real movie with people I can give a fuck for.
I even like how she deals with James after the show because, yeah, he may be trying to apologize, but he did her dirty. She asserts righteous power over him as opposed to being a jerk just because she thinks she deserves recognition for being a dancer.
You know what this feels like? This feels like you’re watching your favorite football team in the Super Bowl. We’ll call them the Las Vegas Nomis. Why are they our favorite team? Well, because they are the hometown team. Many times they piss you off, but you still root for the hometown team. They are playing the Verhoeven Eszterhases. It’s just before halftime and neither team has found their footing. But finally, FINALLY, the Nomis are starting to move the ball and get first downs and finding some rhythm. Some sexy, sexy rhythm. Just before halftime, the Nomis finally score a big time touchdown by pounding the ball up the middle and turning it into a bruising 20 yard run to glory. It’s halftime and Katy Perry and some sharks are going to perform before the Nomis get the ball back to start the third quarter. Now you can really taste the momentum.
I really wasn’t kidding. The moment in which Nomi tells James to get fucked is at the exact halfway point of this director’s cut.
The next day, Cristal meets Nomi and claims that she told the director she’d work with her today. Instead, she wants to get to know Nomi better. Cristal takes her to Spago. There’s something a little more going on too. Cristal is trying to seduce Nomi and it’s maybe working. Right up until the point that Cristal says Nomi is a whore. They cash the checks, they take the money, and all they have to do in return is to show them what they want to see. She says she and Nomi are exactly the same, but Nomi refuses to buy that bullshit.
What’s this? Maybe Nomi is still a halfway decent, and, perhaps, innocent, girl?
Also, what’s this? They are going to dance? Sexily?
This… This is good. The decision for the Las Vegas Nomis to defer until the second half is so far paying off. All this was, along with implied desire to kiss Nomi was all to prove Cristal’s point that Nomi is a whore. Oh, that and Cristal set Nomi up with a gig to represent the hotel for some business men at a trade show.
She and another of the dancers are at the trade show, dancing on top of a motorboat. They are there to have pictures taken, sign autographs and so forth. This is for $1000 for the day. What she doesn’t expect is that she’s expected to go back to Newkirk’s, the hotel guy, place with this Asian businessman to fuck.
This reminds me of a real life situation that lines up with that football analogy I made earlier. Remember when my actual favorite NFL team, the Washington Nomis… er, I mean Redskins, had their cheerleaders go to resorts with high dollar clients and sponsors and season ticket holders? Turns out they were expected to, um, entertain these people? Yeah. That’s what is happening here and Nomi ain’t having it.
Nomi tells Zack about what happened at the trade show and he reams Newkirk for it and demands an apology from him. After getting it, he threatens to fire the guy, but as soon as Nomi leaves, he calls the guy back and tells him that it’s all fine and laughs about the little show they had to put on for her. That night at the show, Nomi sees a dancer drop some marbles to make a rival fall and get hurt to get her out of the show.
The movie continues to show a human side as Nomi seems really bothered by the dancers going after each other and causing broken knees and ruined careers over petty bullshit. Also, Robert Davi and the Cheetah’s emcee and backstage den mother come to visit Nomi. They are both really kind to her and it helps remind her that I guess there are some good people, despite Robert Davi making her take $500 to make Kyle MacLachlan ruin his draws. In fact, Robert Davi says one of the best lines in the movie, “It must be weird to not have anyone cum on you.”
Later, Nomi gets a ride home from Zack and she asks to go back to his place. She tells Zack that she liked when she made him cum at the Cheetah. It’s bizarre that I am not sure who is trying to seduce whom here. Zack is a dirtbag, but Nomi may be trying to fuck with Cristal. Could Cristal be knowingly trying to send Zack into this situation as an ultimate power play? Either which way, she fucks him in the pool and I can say… It’s more comfortable to fuck in the back of a Pontiac T-1000 than it is in water.
That shit is not good for you.
Anyway, I do admire Nomi’s drive to get laid. She also has drive to rise through the ranks in the show. Zack tells her about the chance to become Cristal’s new understudy. She also starts using cocaine much to Molly’s displeasure. Actually… You know the last time I saw Elizabeth Berkley and a guy named Zack have to deal with drugs and performing… Uh oh. Obligatory Saved By the Bell reference with Jessie and caffeine pills incoming!
I sincerely want to believe that scene was the deciding factor in Berkley getting this part.
Anyway, Zack and the director both agree that Nomi has what it takes to be the new understudy. How much of this is Zack getting his dick wet in that sweet, sweet Nomi pie, and how much of it is truth? Either way, Cristal is wise to what’s up. Zack wonders if she’s pissed because he fucked her or because she didn’t get to fuck him first.
Nomi, of course, gets the understudy gig. Cristal, of course, calls Nomi a whore. Doesn’t matter, Nomi is getting what she wants out of this whole thing. However, she’s starting to dance a little too close to the fire, no pun intended. She’s fucking the lead star’s guy. She’s doing coke. She’s seemingly drifting away from Molly. She’s losing friends in the show either through jealousy or anger that she fucked the key entertainment director for the hotel, or whatever. It’s maybe taking a toll.
She goes to see James’ show at a club. Unfortunately, the show gets cut short after the crowd begins to boo them. We find out that James and Penny are getting married. Penny is pregnant so James is kind of stuck. He is going to give up his dream of being a dancer and work at Penny’s mother’s grocery store to get discount baby food.
When she gets to work, she has a letter saying she didn’t get the understudy role because Cristal threatened to quit and got her lawyers involved to make sure Nomi is fired before she even gets the part. So what does Nomi do? She pushes that fucking bitch down the stairs during a costume change. Molly knows what’s what. Another dancer even claims she saw Cristal slip. Considering Cristal isn’t dead, I’m guessing she will be able to say that she definitely felt someone push her.
Whatever. Nomi is now the lead in the production. And, again, the news is there to cover it all. There is something kind of classic happening here. The head of the Stardust fills her head with the idea that she is of course good for the show because she IS the show. It’s kind of like dangling the carrot. The Stardust is doing whatever necessary to make Nomi a start to hide any concerns or worries over the loss of a huge star. It’s feeding Nomi’s desire to make it. It’s also making sure it is filling the hotel’s safe.
At an after show party, Nomi seems to be somewhat unaffected by her fame, and things may be working out for the best. However, she still did toss Cristal down the fucking stairs. Also, she gets Molly introduced to a celebrity crush of hers that knows Zack, and he and his cronies rape her violently.
Molly ends up in the hospital for a broken nose, vaginal tears, and shock. I guess this is kind of meant to show the darker side of being involved with celebrity. Molly is one of the little people and famous people can walk all over them and take what they want for nothing more than a little hero worship. I do like that brings a lot of things crashing down for Nomi because she wants this dude busted for rape, but Zack protects him. The movie still doesn’t do a very good job, though, at trying to tell us why Nomi is different/better suited for this kind of life. I mean, sure, some get lucky, and some are just good enough. But that’s not good enough for a script and the movie isn’t lucky enough in other areas to pull it off.
Anyway, Zack discovers who Nomi really is. Her father killed her mother, then killed himself. She ran away from a foster home and bounced around city to city getting picked up constantly for soliciting sex, assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of crack cocaine. He asks why she stopped hooking because it seemed like she had it all planned out. She said she did anything she had to survive.
The problem, now, is that she works for the Stardust and she is basically stuck making money for them. That celebrity who raped Molly, Andrew Carver? He is part of a team. The same team as Nomi is. So she better shut her fucking face. Molly will get money from him. Probably enough to open her own dress shop. Nomi decides to take Carver up on that date he wanted when he met her. She gets all sexy and goes over to his place.
She pulls a knife on him and kicks the shit out of him. She goes to visit Molly to tell her she dealt with Carver and that she loves her. She then visits Cristal. Nomi apologizes, but Cristal admits she pulled a similar stunt years ago. She is enjoying her rest and glad that her lawyers got her a giant settlement. Nomi kisses Cristal goodbye and leaves Vegas for Los Angeles, hitching a ride with the very same dude, Jeff, that got this whole movie started. This time, Nomi decides to rob Jeff before he screws her over.
This movie isn’t good, but it isn’t as bad as its reputation is. It’s just an example of an idea that isn’t that interesting to take itself this serious. While I will never say the world of being a Vegas showgirl is a clean and happy place, it is very highly unlikely that it is as sleazy as this movie depicts it. Sure, it’s all tits and ass and these girls are only one step above being a dancer at a dive strip club. I don’t doubt for a moment that there are bitchy competitors in the world of dance. I have no reason to dispel any story Eszterhas got or might have heard about how stars could be made and how some of the dancers that come to Vegas have sordid pasts.
But this movie isn’t good enough to deal with all those ideas. It spends too much of the first half of the movie trying to get us on Nomi’s side. She’s not likable enough until most people have already made up their mind that this is a shitty movie. That said, I don’t hate this movie. But it doesn’t do enough to even get into the “not bad” range. I think there is plenty of enough things to enjoy in this. It’s an enjoyable bad movie, but it’s more of a novelty than anything.
However, it isn’t so much of a novelty that it prevents me from writing nearly 5,700 fucking words in this article. So I think I need to wrap things up. To help get into the mood for this movie, I’ve been writing this in a g-string and tits out. It’s getting kind of chilly. Let me go cover up and come back next week when I cover another of those Torchlight films from Full Moon Features – Dark Angel!
And, yes, Kyle MacLachlan plays a guy named Zack. You thought I wouldn’t point that out at some point and connect it all back to the Bell?