SHOWGIRLS - DVD review

...despite its rampant sexual material, it is not a sexy film. Dang, this thing couldn't get anything right.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

When "Showgirls" premiered in theaters in 1995, it was supposed to be a straightforward drama, the struggles of a young woman clawing her way to the top of the chorus line, but as word got around that it was an unmitigated disaster, it quickly gained a reputation as a camp classic. Now, for their special V.I.P. Edition boxed set, not only aren't the folks at MGM ashamed of their product, they openly promote it on the packaging as "An instant camp classic!" (Janet Maslin, New York Times) and "Masterpieces of flashy tackiness!" (San Francisco Chronicle). I suppose the studio figures if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. This new set is most definitely aimed at adults eighteen and up who can accept the film and the package's contents for what they are--sleazy nonsense.

One can't help comparing "Showgirls" to the much-earlier "Myra Breckinridge," they're both so dreadful, but at least "Breckinridge" was meant to be bad. I suppose that could mean "Showgirls" might be even campier fun, a movie intending to be serious and turning out so laughably wrong, but even with the campy audio commentary that's included with the new edition, I found the movie virtually unwatchable.

Director Paul Verhoeven had done "Robocop," "Total Recall," and "Basic Instinct" before coming to "Showgirls." Writer Joe Eszterhas had done "Jagged Edge," "Basic Instinct," and "Nowhere to Run," and producer Alan Marshall had done "Basic Instinct," "Cliffhanger," and "Angel Heart." There was no reason to believe so prized a team would produce anything so appalling as this.

Playing the main character, Nomi Malone, actress Elizabeth Berkley is a pretty young woman with an attractive figure and big lips. But she is not exactly what you would call beautiful nor can she act. So the question is why the filmmakers would have entrusted a relative newcomer with dubious credentials to head up an expensive, high-profile project. Since the Nomi character is herself an airhead, did the producers think a talent of proportionate ability suited the role? When the movie begins, Nomi is hitchhiking to Las Vegas to make her fortune as a showgirl. The silliness begins when she pulls a switchblade on the Elvis impersonator who picks her up. Then, no sooner does she arrive in Vegas than she gets her luggage and money stolen.

But, to her good fortune, she instantly strikes up a friendship with a local woman, Molly Abrams (Gina Ravera), who just happens to work in the wardrobe department of a big hotel revue. Nomi takes up residence with Molly in a trailer park and subsequently lands a job as a stripper and lap dancer in a seedy night club. After that, there is nowhere for Nomi to go but up, which is more than can be said for the movie.

Robert Davi, who usually plays villains and assorted bottom feeders, appears as Al Torres, the lowlife manager of Nomi's club. Surprisingly, he turns out to be a reasonably sweet guy and almost the only person in the film who isn't a complete jerk. What does that say for a film where Davi plays the only nice guy in it? Anyway, before long Nomi is spotted by big shots from the classy Stardust Hotel and invited to join the chorus line. At the hotel she meets the boss, Zack Carey, played by Kyle MacLachlan, and the show's big star, Cristal Connors, Nomi's soon-to-be rival, played by Gina Gershon. From then on it's all cat fighting and contention for positioning in the show. Nomi finally gets top billing after pushing Cristal down a flight of stairs.

This movie must have ruined more careers for more people than any film in history. Writer Joe Eszterhas says in his autobiography, "Hollywood Animal: A Memoir," that he was seduced and corrupted by Tinseltown, and that, in effect, the devil made him do things like "Showgirls" and "Jade." Sorry, Joe; no excuses. The devil would have written far better films.

The movie portrays everyone even remotely associated with Las Vegas show business as tawdry, perverted, depraved, or just plain creepy. The movie is, in fact, nothing more than a trashy Las Vegas show itself, loud, tasteless and gaudy, a cheap excuse to parade as much female flesh before the cameras as possible at the least expense to plot or writing. The movie is rated NC-17 for profanity, nudity, simulated sex, violence, and rape. Yet despite its rampant sexual material, it is not a sexy film. Dang, this thing couldn't get anything right.

Video:
The V.I.P. Edition's image quality is not much different from MGM's previous DVD transfer of the film, except that it now more closely approximates the movie's original, Super-35 theatrical-release dimensions of 2.35:1. I measured the first edition at a 1.92:1 ratio and the new edition at 2.13:1 across my Sony XBR TV screen. The new video quality is OK, but there is no indication anywhere on the packaging that it is anamorphic (enhanced for widescreen), and an ordinary bit rate doesn't do much to instill confidence in what we're seeing, either. Lines are periodically shaky, edges fluttery, and pixels jittery. Colors seem better and brighter than before, but they are still not always as vivid or well contrasted as they could be. Overall definition is on the soft, very slightly blurry side.

Audio:
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio also seems much the same as before. It does a credible job filling the listening area with all-enveloping sonics, but directionality in the rear or side speakers is at a minimum because much of the surround sound is made up of nondirectional musical ambience and crowd noises. Bass is strong, though, and the front-channel stereo spread is commendably wide.

Extras:
Be this as it may, the real reason for the reappearance of the movie on DVD is for MGM to take advantage of its newfound status as a king-of-the-hill trashy film and to repackage it as such. The disc, for instance, now sports an assortment of extras that were not provided before. The main thing is an audio commentary by David Schmader, a fellow who introduces himself as a writer living in Seattle, who has taken the film to various screenings around the country telling people that it's "the greatest movie ever made" and "the most misunderstood work of art in the twentieth century." His comments are done tongue-in-cheek, naturally, and are designed for an audience that appreciates high camp. For the most part, he ridicules the film by explaining how wonderful every scene is (and by mocking the viewers of such schlock), culminating with the remark that "It is this density of failure that makes 'Showgirls' sublime." Truer words were ne'er spoken.

Next, there is a note on the strip-club dance scene by the girls of the Scores nightclubs, a feature I could not find or subconsciously did not want to find. After that is a five-minute "Lap-Dance Tutorial," again featuring the girls of Scores, a item I did, unfortunately, find and wasted my time watching. Lastly, there are thirty-two scene selections; "A Showgirls Diary" storyboard-to-screen and behind-the-scenes segment; a trivia track that flashes bits of info onto the screen during the movie, a welcome relief from the tedium of the story unfolding; and a widescreen theatrical trailer. English, French, and Spanish are the spoken languages offered, with English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

The disc, however, is only one of many items contained in the big box set. For instance, you get a pair of "Showgirls" shot glasses, too; and a "Pin the Pasties on the Showgirl" game, complete with poster, pasties, and blindfold; and a deck of "Showgirls" playing cards; and six photos from the film with yet more party games on the back. If any of this sounds even remotely interesting to you, your tastes run counter to mine.

Parting Shots:
Let's face it, the script for "Showgirls" is sleazy. The writing is sleazy and inept. And the acting is sleazy, inept, and practically nonexistent. It's spam and eggs; spam, bacon and eggs; spam, spam, spam, bacon, eggs, and spam. Supposedly, there's a movie in there, too. I didn't find it.

Ratings

Video
7
Audio
7
Extras
6
Film Value
2