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I was told by a fairly reasonable friend of mine that she did not subscribe to the generally held belief that Showgirls was nothing but a putrid, trashy film, deserving all the criticism (and all the Golden Raspberry awards) it received. Her claim was a rather interesting one, since we are talking about a person who went to a Baptist private school for 12 years, the sort of school whose rulebook looks as if it was written in the 1950`s, decrying rock music, and other such evils. Her belief about the film was, if it weren`t for all that nudity, it would have been a pretty good movie. Now, remember, everyone ........ we are talking about Showgirls, the entry point into Joe Esterhas` twisted mind. Well, after hearing that she actually liked this film, I decided to succumb to renting it last week. And I suppose I did find it intriguing, even amusing. But I can`t find that pretty good movie anywhere. I think she must have been doing a rewrite while she was viewing it, and grew confused! I know she would have done a much better job!

The film is about the struggles of women in the exotic dancing industry, as shown by the actions of Elizabeth Berkley, who travels to Vegas to find success. At first, she works at a "gentleman`s club", headed by a truly pig-headed boss, who expects fellatio from some of the better strippers. Later, she is granted the attention of the bisexual Christal (Gina Gershon) and her sometimes lover (Kyle MacLachan). Christal is a famous showgirl, who performs at respectable Vegas hotels, and who desires Berkley, for whatever reason. She even goes so far as to drag her man over to the stripclub and demand she do a private dance for both her and him. Soon, Berkley finds herself auditioning for the showgirls, and actually gets the job, as well as the glamour and the violent competition and jealousy that goes with it.

Anyway, this is a pretty bad film, and yet it gets two stars. Why? Paul Verhoven can actually direct! Films like Body of Evidence, Vivid, and other soft-core films I`ve seen have no style at all, since there is only the need to put lots of sex and trash in the film. But Showgirls has a real production ethic. The story is stupid, but the direction moves it along at a good soap-opera pace. If the script were a bit better, it would be a good soap. Also, Gina Gershon is in this film, and I like Gina and her wry expressions. But her character is just as one-note as all the others, so it is very hard to like her here. And Berekley`s treatment of a gruesomely violent rapist is well-deserved.

The rest of the film is just a cross-section of Joe Esterhas`s crazy, sordid mind. There is a lot of nudity in this film, and while it is certainly not criminal to witness Berkley and, of course, Gina in all their splendour, it is silly when at every moment we get to see some skin. Berkley actually walks around in outfits in which you can see almost everything, as if this is normal. And we get a lot of dressing (undressing?) room footage. There are also two super-charged and ridiculous sex scenes, both between Berekley and MacLachan. One is at the club, and the other is in a swimming pool. I was a little worried that, with all that flopping around in the pool, Berekley might have sprained a few limbs and a back, and given herself a terrible rash.

There is also lots of repressed lesbianism; not of the coming-out-of-the-closet variety, but of the horny, voyeuristic male variety. Maybe I`m just as hopelessly perverted as Esterhas, but I sensed a lot of silly tension between Berekley`s character and her new-found friend, a traffic co-ordinator of sorts for the showgirls performances. Right from the first scene together, they appear just a little too close! And there is some more obvious material between Berekley and Gershon, since Gina constantly taunts and hits on her.

Acting itself is kept to a bare minimum. Gershon goes over the top, MacLachan phones it in, and Berekley didn`t even bother to take any acting with her at all. There is also a terrible, completely stereotyped performance by Glenn Plummer, as a black dance-club bodyguard, who is given the sorts of dialogue that only the least intelligent of rappers speak (lots of "bitches" and "pussy" abound), and who is basically a sleazy pig, yet, for some reason, we are supposed to think of him as a reasonable, uncorrupted character who teaches Berekley some valuable lessons. Actually, there is a lot of stuff which makes no sense. The strip-club boss is a pig, yet the reunion scene between him and Berekley is straight out of a sappy drama, except that the man says that it`s not quite the same when a man doesn`t come on her. How touching! Other scenes are all wrong for the same reason. We cannot be touched by selfish idiots and their venal actions, so why twist some of these scenes into corrupted versions of sentiment. Most of us are not that gullible to fall for this.

Basically, this film is poorly written trash, helmed by a director with a yen for copious amounts of nudity, and populated with has-beens and (due to this film) never-will-be`s. If there was any quality to be found in the story, it would only be the potential the script had to be a stinging exposè into such a lurid world. There is much obvious explotation of women, and a movie could have explored the meaning behind that. But Showgirls does not attempt to cast a depressing eye on this industry, since that eye only wants to look at all those naked women dancing around, believing that this is what every man wants to see in their women.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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