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‘Showgirls’ (NC-17)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 22, 1995

THE IMMEDIATE verdict on "Showgirls," the NC-17-rated movie about strippers and nude dancers in Las Vegas, is a no-brainer: It's a skinflick posing as a hard-hitting, tell-it-like-it-is indictment of Vegas, Hollywood and America.

In this licentious "All About Eve" fable, nude dancer Nomi Malone (newcomer Elizabeth Berkley) elbows and scratches her way to the top of the nudie heap, while stripper queen Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon) alternately tries to keep her down and seduce her. With its catfights in the dressing room, bump-and-grind sex in swimming pools, private lap dancing in dark corners and a general atmosphere of nastiness, "Showgirls" is a one-of-a-kind experience. If this is what you're after, you won't be disappointed.

"In my films," writes director Paul Verhoeven in a graphically pictorial coffee-table book about the making of the movie, "I hold the mirror up to life."

Excuse me, Paul? You're holding that mirror up to undulating women writhing around poles and doing things onstage that (to borrow from sportswriter Dan Jenkins) only my cat can do? And you're pretending there's something to learn from all this? I'd say pull the other one, but you might take me literally.

When the apparently innocent Nomi (Berkley's nudity should get a screen credit of its own) hitches her way into Las Vegas, she's befriended by Molly Abrams (Gina Ravera), who makes costumes for les gals at the Stardust show, a nightly music-and-dance extravaganza full of gymnastic, G-strung dancers. Intrigued by the Stardust, Nomi nonetheless has to start small, as a stripper at the Cheetah club, where she gets extra tips by lap dancing in private booths.

Cristal, who has spotted Nomi hanging around the Stardust with more than casual interest, brings along boyfriend and Stardust entertainment director Zack (Kyle MacLachlan) and pays $500 for a lap dance. For both of them. Nomi refuses. So Cristal settles for just Zack. Nomi rocks his world, and it's just a matter of time before that frisky newcomer is auditioning at the Stardust. And now, the real battle begins.

Will Nomi upstage Cristal (an adult version of the Wicked Queen from "Snow White") or have an affair with her? (Evidently, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and Verhoeven didn't completely sate their appetite for half-baked bisexual women in "Basic Instinct," the last movie they worked on together.) Will Nomi fall for MacLachlan? Will she get together with dancer James Smith (Glenn Plummer), who believes in her dancing and her body (although not necessarily in that order)? And will she stand by Molly (the only Nice Girl in the movie) and see the error of her overambitious ways?

These and other questions hang in the air like cheap mirror balls at a strip club. Eszterhas's story prefers to revel—or root around—in atmospheric sleaze. Nomi crosses paths with an endless slew of misogynists, users, weirdos and cutthroats, who seem to be trying to outgross each other. Take a tubby, earth-mothery stripper called Henrietta Bazoom, the comic relief at the Cheetah, who spouts vile jokes and wears a peekaboo device that causes her breasts to pop out jack-in-a-box style. We're supposed to think of this woman (played by Lin Tucci) as crudely endearing. Instead, we yearn for an electric cattle prod. But then, to take "Showgirls" that seriously (as either trash-art or appalling pornography) wouldn't be worth the exertion.

SHOWGIRLS (NC-17) — Contains graphic nudity, profanity, sexual situations and violence. Some people, however, keep their clothes on.

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