Showgirls (1995)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Elizabeth Berkley, Gina Ravera, Gina Gershon, Kyle MacLachlan
Extras: Behind-the-Scenes Featurette, Theatrical Trailer

I’m not a big fan of the "So bad it’s Good" school of fandom. Ed Wood’s movies have a certain bizarre charm and there’s a stinker called "The Children" that I just love, but other than that, I consider most bad movies to be just that — bad. One exception to this rule is "Showgirls". This movie is like a forty car interstate pile-up. Unbelievably bad things keep happening, but you can’t pull your eyes away from the action. This movie truly must be seen to be believed, and the newly released DVD of "Showgirls" from MGM Home Entertainment is the perfect medium for viewing the film.

"Showgirls" opens with Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley of TV’s "Saved by the Bell") arriving in Las Vegas, with dreams of becoming a dancer. Her luggage is promptly stolen and she reacts to this by assaulting a car and then vomiting. (I’m not making that up.) During this interlude, she meets Molly (Gina Ravera). They gaze at each other longingly, share some fries (which Nomi also assaults) and then move in together. The story then jumps ahead six weeks. Nomi has gotten a job as a dancer. Unfortunately, she’s a topless dancer at the sleazy Cheetah club, where her boss and the patrons harass her and no one appreciates her talent.

However, Molly is a seamstress at the Stardust Hotel for the huge stage show "Goddess". Nomi goes to work with Molly one day to catch the show. There she meets Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon), the star of "Goddess." Nomi is immediately transfixed by both "Goddess" and Cristal. Cristal then shows up at the Cheetah club and pays Nomi to dance seductively for Zack (Kyle MacLachlan). Nomi feels used by this, but does it anyway. Soon after, Nomi gets an audition for "Goddess." Is Cristal attempting to control Nomi’s fate?

Nomi gets a part in the chorus line of "Goddess" and her life begins to change. Against Molly’s advice, Nomi begins to get caught up in the showgirl lifestyle and the highs and lows that go with it. Nomi feels herself pulled toward both Zack and Cristal, while all the while trying to advance her career and position in the show. As Nomi sees fame and fortune looming closer and closer, she must decide who she wants to be and how far she’ll go for success.

To be honest, "Showgirls" probably isn’t as bad as some critics have made it out to be, but it’s still pretty bad. However, even with all of its badness, "Showgirls" is still somehow highly watchable and entertaining. The problem with the film is that the audience is never given any indication of how seriously we should be taking the proceedings. The movie is played very straight, but the situations and dialogue are so absurd, that the film is hard to take seriously. The dialogue in the film is absolutely priceless. However, many of the best lines can’t be repeated here, as we’re trying to run a family-friendly website. Apparently, even the producers of the DVD knew how unbelievable the dialogue was, as the hidden feature on the disc is quotes from the film hidden in the word "Showgirls" on the main menu page. It almost seems as if screenwriter Joe Eszterhas reverse-engineered the script by thinking of lines that could never appear in a Hollywood film and then writing a story around it. The script tries to be all encompassing (there’s a subplot involving a male dancer played by Glenn Plummer that I didn’t even mention in the synopsis), but it eventually piles on too much. The film makes attempts at symbolism with things like Nomi’s name — Nomi Malone, "Know Me? I’m alone" — and the way Nomi imitates Cristal’s dancing while Cristal imitates Nomi’s dancing (foreshadowing events later in the movie), but all of this gets sucked into the vapid whirlwind of the movie.

What makes "Showgirls" such a conundrum is the talent involved in the film. Unlike Ed Wood’s group of friends and guerilla filmmakers, "Showgirls" was made by professionals who have proven themselves in the past. Director Paul Verhoeven has made the sci-fi classics, "RoboCop", "Total Recall", and "Starship Troopers." Writer Eszterhas penned the well-received thrillers "Jagged Edge" and "The Music Box." The two collaborated on the overrated hit "Basic Instinct." And while Berkley can’t overcome her sitcom roots, Kyle MacLachlan and Gina Gershon have both proven themselves as competent actors before. The film can be hard to swallow at times because you’ve got semi-competent actors spouting the silliest and most unbelievable dialogue. Verhoeven definitely shows his skills as a visual director with "Showgirls". The film is simply gorgeous, with a lush look. The film is well-paced and never lags. Also, the dance scenes are well choreographed. Still, these attributes can’t keep the film from being a complete mess.

So, based on all of these negatives, how can the film be called "watchable" and "enjoyable." Is it the sexuality? No. There are so many topless women in the film and so much sex-talk, that it all becomes numbing after a while. As one character says, "Everyone in America is a gynecologist." OK, is it the characters? No. There isn’t a likable character in the film, except maybe for Molly, but she doesn’t have a very large role. Most of the characters are morally flawed, or just plain unlikable. I think what makes "Showgirls" so fascinating is the sheer audacity with which it parades its wares. Every scene presents us with something else that should make us walk away from the film, but it’s impossible once you’re under its spell. Much of this revolves around Nomi’s character. She behaves irrationally and bizarrely throughout the film (just try and count the number of times that she storms out of a room). She attempts to alienate everyone around her, but then acts hurt if they do something bad to her. Instead of being presented with an intimate portrait what goes on behind-the-scenes of a Vegas show, we are shown a world where everyone is insane and no one seems to notice. The film piles one shocking scene on top of another, never letting the viewer catch their breath. Just when you think the movie can’t sink any lower, it does. Trust me, it always does. "Showgirls" is by no means a good film, but it holds your interest and that’s more than can be said for many "important" films.

For such a poorly received movie, MGM Home Entertainment certainly has put together a nice DVD package for it. The film is presented in a non-<$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1. This transfer is very crisp and clear. There is some minor defects noticeable from the source material, but there is virtually no grain on the print. The color balancing has been handled very well, adding to the lush and colorful look that Verhoeven was striving for. The blacks are very deep, making the bright colors of Vegas almost jump off of the screen. Actually, the picture is so clear that it’s easy to see that Berkley has one green eye and one brown eye. I’d never noticed that before, even on the laserdisc.

The audio on the DVD is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 and it sounds very good. There is music in almost every scene of the film (supplied by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame), and it has a nice bass quality but never overwhelms the dialogue. Be wary of the music during the scene where Nomi and James are dancing at his apartment. The whispered lyrics that come from the rear speakers may freak you out as much as they did me.

The DVD’s bonus features are a bit disappointing. There is a behind-the-scenes featurette that is less than five minutes long. It offers some sound bites from the cast and crew, and some shots of the dancers rehearsing, but it’s mostly made up of clips from the film. The theatrical trailer is included on the DVD and it is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. MGM’s laserdisc release of "Showgirls" offered at least two teaser trailers (which I remember as being quite good), but they are nowhere to be found on the DVD.

"Showgirls" is a tough film to recommend. It’s not art. It’s not something that you want your friends to let you see. But, "Showgirls" doesn’t pretend to be art (I think) and it doesn’t disappoint. What we have here is a beautifully shot movie full of people that you never want to meet doing things that are simply mind-blowing. Some people may consider the film to be a satire of American culture, but I just consider it to be the ultimate guilty pleasure. And by the way, after you watch "Showgirls" (and you know you’re going to), watch "Chasing Amy" for Kevin Smith’s homage to the film. Classic.