You can’t touch me, but I can touch you. I’d really love to touch you – Nomi
Released back in 1995, Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls” has managed to gain a major amount of notoriety for being one of the worst movies ever made, and although some people love it I can’t disagree with those who criticise it. Starring Elizabeth Berkley and Gina Gershon “Showgirls” is a drama which actually lacks drama and for the most comes across as titillation for the teens with copious amounts of nudity and sex scenes who having grown up watching Elizabeth Berkley as the sweet Jessica in “Saved by the Bell” now wanted to watch her movies. Despite set in the nasty world of Vegas dancing it is a movie of very little substance reliant on nudity and sex rather than anything else, much in the same manner as “Body of Evidence “.
Having made it to Las Vegas in the hopes of becoming a dancer, Nomi’s (Elizabeth Berkley – Any Given Sunday ) journey doesn’t start well when a truck driver steals her belongings. Taken in by Molly (Gina Ravera), Nomi finds herself working as a lap dancer in the Cheetah Club, a dive of a strip joint. But she gets a break when she wins a part in the line up for the Stardust Casino show ‘Goddess’ starring Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon – Best of the Best 3 ). With a foot in the door and discovering showbiz is not all glitz & glamour she sets about clawing her way to the top.
One of the biggest issues with “Showgirls” is that it really lacks a strong storyline, with the journey of Nomi as she enters the world of Vegas showgirls being the central thread, except it really isn’t that interesting or at least interesting enough to be the main storyline. Strangely a movie around the fickle world of Vegas showgirls, stripping and lap dancing should have enough going on to give it substance but instead we get a semi-glossy movie which fails to really deliver on the seediness of this world and in turn becomes seedy itself in it’s reliance on nudity and so called sex scenes. Talking of which for a movie which does feature a lot of nudity it is not in the least bit steamy or really that erotic, in fact erotic scenes such as the Elizabeth Berkley’s explicit lap dance or the over the top swimming pool sex scene end up more laughable in their execution than anything else.
In an attempt to make up for the weakness in the main storyline the are a few sub plots going on but then these actually feel like padding rather than actually contributing to the main storyline. It doesn’t help that these sub plots appear and disappear without any real cohesion with the main storyline making it feel oddly paced and a little disjointed. Adding to the misery there is the sub plot surrounding Nomi’s friend Molly who idolizes Vegas performer Andrew Carver. Now I can actually see the reason why this sub plot exists and actually adds a little meaning to an otherwise meaningless movie, but the visual ness of the storyline is disturbing and doesn’t fit in with the rest of “Showgirls”. This actually makes it feel like its inclusion has been for shock value rather than to give substance.
Whilst the storyline is undoubtedly weak, the casting of Elizabeth Berkley does not help matters as she spends most of the movie looking like a fish out of water. The thing is the character of Nomi should be interesting, naive but strong willed, manipulated yet manipulative with a malicious streak, but the performance fails to really convey these characteristics. Berkley who seems to struggle with a fixed expression throughout the movie just doesn’t come across as being believable often relying on exaggerated, melodramatic movements to try and convey emotion. I’m sorry but the scene featuring her stropping her way through a meal of chips is the sort of amateur dramatics you would expect from a high school production not a Hollywood movie.
The supporting performances don’t fare much better all of which seem to be going for the over the top dramatics rather than realism. This means that Gina Gershon as the established showgirl, Cristal Connors, appears to be a cross between Cruella de Ville and a pantomime villain, whilst Kyle MacLachlan is bordering on the brains in his pants rich kid rather than some flash Vegas entertainment manager. Probably the only half decent performance comes from Glenn Plummer who at least manages to deliver semi realistic drama with the underused character of James.
What this all boils down to is that “Showgirls” comes across as a very shallow movie which hides any real meaning or drama for the over use of naked flesh. In my opinion it does deserve it’s notoriety for being a poor movie and although many people say that it has been misinterpreted makes me wonder if I’d watched the same movie. Between the expressionless naked Elizabeth Berkley and a storyline which for the most lacks any real drama or realism “Showgirls” really does end up being just titillation for teens as it attempts to deliver style over substance.