Bad Movies Done Right – Showgirls

Every day Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: What would A.C. Slater think?

For a movie with so much female nudity, there are fewer films as blissfully gay as Showgirls.

Sparkly, shimmery dancers prance across the stage behind the towering beauty of Elizabeth Berkley. Donned in an outfit that would make a drag queen cream his panties, the former Saved by the Bell star shakes what her mama gave her — offering up enough hero shots of her anatomy to where those that watched Showgirls only once could give a guided tour of Berkley’s real estate long into their twilight years.

Breasts jiggle, asses wobble and there’s enough lesbian sexual tension to make a locker room full of WNBA stars feel self-conscious.

Despite all of that, there remains something about Showgirls that leaves the film a little light in its Nikes — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Maybe it’s the overwhelming bout of melodrama — enough to put your average episode of Degrassi to shame — or maybe it’s the utter flamboyance of the film’s costuming and set design. Either way, Showgirls is the female impersonator of director Paul Verhoeven’s filmography — and he’s a guy obsessed with the vagina. Seriously, have you seen the aliens from Starship Troopers?

Showgirls is a film whose notoriety has nearly reached critical mass in the 15 years since its release. Finding a second life on home video, the film has been transformed from a commercial and critical box office disaster into a genuine cult classic — celebrated for its reputed sheer awfulness.

Well, let me tell you: don’t believe the hype. Showgirls is just not that bad.

The film, arguably one of the most mainstream exploitation films to ever be released, is no contender for an Oscar — there is no denying that. But, as somebody who had never seen the film before and had only heard horror stories about its audaciousness, I found myself a little let down by what ended up being a mostly mediocre film instead of a gloriously awful one.

The aforementioned Berkley stars as Nomi Malone, a drifter with a mysterious past that blows into Las Vegas looking to become a dancer. After a chance encounter lands her a chance to escape the hell that is low-rent stripping and become a chorus girl in a major Las Vegas strip hotel, Nomi begins a dangerous climb to the top — one that she will do anything to pull off.

Alternating between standing in Nomi’s way and assisting her climb is Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon), a showgirl star who sees a little of herself in Nomi — and, based on her predatory advances toward her young apprentice, would like to see a little more of her self inside of the showgirl.

Kyle MacLachlan also appears as Zach, Cristal’s boyfriend and a man who drops the aging star like a hot potato when he catches a glimpse (and lap dance) from Nomi.

Soon, Nomi and Cristal are on a collision course of glitter, sequins and selfish acts of subterfuge — all destined to leave one of them in the dust and the other the sole star of Las Vegas.

Showgirls is not your typical Verhoeven film — and not just because of the lack of quality contained within its 131-minute running time. While other Verhoeven classics such as Total Recall and RoboCop deftly layout an engaging plot that hums along at an even pace, Showgirls leisurely stretches out a simplistic storyline over two excruciatingly long hours.

This extended length wouldn’t be a problem if the film rested on the shoulders of great character actors but Berkley (for all her strengths playing Jesse Spano on Saved by the Bell) clumsily trips through Showgirls wide-eyed and frantic — a manic spurt of energy unguided and misdirected.

Gershon, although oozing sleazy sexuality, is horribly over her head in the film — trying her best to hide behind a southern belle accent and a great set of breasts.

While Verhoeven can undeniably direct a great action movie, he really dropped the ball when it came to capturing the magic of the film’s Las Vegas dance routines. What should be bombastic show-stopping numbers feel overly intimate and uninspired.

Never quite capturing the grandiosity of your standard Vegas act, Verhoeven makes a series of poor camera choices when attempting to film the choreography — leaving audiences with a sense of untapped anticipation. When Verhoeven gets served by the director of Step Up when it comes to filming dance sequences, you know something went wrong.

It would be easy to blame the film’s quality on the script by legendary writer Joe Eszterhas (he’s sure tried his best to pass the blame himself). The trouble is, it’s a real toss up if the dialogue is that bad or if the dialogue just continually falls flat upon delivery.

The film’s actors try their best to breathe life into what seems to be a sub-par script but, to be honest, the actors’ best isn’t really that good.

There are a lot of things bad with Showgirls but, in the end, it fails to achieve that level of awfulness that the stuff of legend is made of. No amount of gratuitous rape scenes, swimming pool coitus or Elizabeth Berkley’s doe-eyed overacting can quite push the film over the edge into the realm of “best worst movie.”

Is Showgirls a carefully planned satire? A misfire on all levels? It’s hard to tell. One thing that is certain, though, it’ll leave you desensitized to the sight of Berkley’s naked body.

Robert Saucedo may not have loved Showgirls, but he sure loved that teaser trailer. Follow Robert on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.

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