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‘Showgirls’ (NC-17)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 22, 1995

Trollops and floozies and sluts, oh my.

Only little old ladies who thought Liberace was straight will be surprised by director Paul Verhoeven's satyrical Las Vegas tour, "Showgirls." A portrait of one saucy stripper's attempt to writhe her way to the top of the heap, this seamy skin flick gives a whole new meaning to the expression "tongue in cheek."

Elizabeth Berkley, once a sitcom kid on TV's "Saved by the Bell," plays Nomi Malone, a tarty blonde with the brains of an appliance bulb who arrives in Vegas with dreams of becoming a casino chorine. But to make ends meet, she takes a position—well, many of them, really—at the sleazy Cheetah Club.

Like many of her real-life colleagues, Nomi insists that she's a dancer—not a stripper and not a whore. Indeed, she demonstrates many unusual gyrations and much flexibility whilst removing her garb before an appreciative crowd of sweaty insurance salesmen. But after her performance, Nomi makes extra cash doing lap dances—not to be confused with the Norwegian folk dance performed during the opening night festivities at the Lillehammer Olympics.

That is not to deny the lap dancer's superb physical fitness or her athletic prowess. Basically, the dancer performs an erotic gymnastic routine, using her male customer as a pommel horse. Among her many satisfied customers is Zack (Kyle MacLachlan), the entertainment director at the Stardust Hotel, home to elaborate musicals reminiscent of those at the Folies-Bergere.

With Zack's help, Nomi lands a spot in the chorus of the Stardust's stage show, "Goddess," an explosion of sex and sequins built around Cristal (Gina Gershon), the reigning queen of the Vegas scene. Though Cristal is involved with Zack, the fading diva soon sets her sights on seducing the ingenue Nomi. The plot thickens when Nomi's lust for the spotlight gradually erodes what was left of her moral fiber.

Written by Joe Eszterhas, who collaborated with Verhoeven on "Basic Instinct," this film is just a coarser, dumber, smuttier remake of the 1983 Eszterhas-penned "Flashdance," throbbing music, working-class Cinderella and all. The lavish production numbers, particularly the ones depicting motorcycle lesbians in leather thong things, are definitely diverting; alas, the same can hardly be said for the pedestrian plot, laughable dialogue or shallow characterizations.

Eszterhas and Verhoeven's previous works have already exposed their misogyny; here the male characters are also far from heroic. Pimps, rapists and thieves populate this erotic wasteland. The picture's one decent human being, a costumer (Gina Ravera), is brutally beaten and gang raped by a Vegas entertainer and his bodyguards.

When it comes to acting, there's very little to complain about. Luckily, Berkley's lines could be written on a G-string. Like the bimbo she plays, Berkley's minimal acting talent limits her choice of roles. That makes the filmmakers little better than the club owners who prostitute their employees. They're selling women's bodies, and "Showgirls" is an overcoat movie for men who don't want to be seen going into a porno theater.

Showgirls is rated NC-17 for foul language, sexual situations and nudity.

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