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Review: “Showgirls” (1995)

I don’t know about you, but for me the moment Elizabeth Berkley licked the stripper pole in “Showgirls” was the moment the movie became a contender in the Worst Movie Ever Made race.

And that’s just what the first act had to offer.

Thus, it seems entirely appropriate that, when speaking of the movie that Roger Ebert called scriptwriter Joe Eszerthas’ “masturbatory fantasies,”  it’s wisest not to try to find positives in the vast, skeezy wasteland that is “Showgirls.” Because any movie where the actors swear, straight-faced, that what looks to be a full-body seizure reveals “natural” dancing ability, or where two actresses bond over a shared love of Doggy Chow, isn’t a movie directed by a man with a lot of shame. Or self-awareness. Or, ahem, talent.

Before launching into my personal justifications (a catalogue of crap, to put it less delicately) for why “Showgirls” merits very serious consideration for the Worst Movie Ever Made award, though, some background information may be in order. In “Showgirls” Eszerterhas takes us into the mind-numbingly stupid — and icky — world of Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley), a mysterious girl from “different places” who comes to Las Vegas to pursue her dream of being a showgirl. Alas, this is not to be at first, and she winds up stripping in the Cheetah Club, the kind of club where simply touching the doorknob puts one at risk for contracting an incurable STD. She meets Nice People — James (Glen Plummer), who really likes Nomi but can’t seem to quit slaying those hoodrats, and Molly (Gina Ravera), a seamstress at the Stardust Hotel which hosts Goddess, a classier semi-nude show — and Villainous Types, like Cristal Conners (Gina Gershon), the star of Goddess, and hyper-sleazy Goddess show bigwigs Zack (Kyle MacLachlan) and Tony Moss (Alan Rachins).

Catfights and vigorous random sexual encounters abound as Malone tries to claw her way to the top. Poor, poor Nomi. It’s hard out there for a showgirl.

Now that the stage has been set, let’s press on to a CV of crap:

  • Elizabeth Berkley — Her performance as wannabe Vegas showgirl Nomi Malone (she has a Mysterious Past, sadly unperky nipples and can go from straight to bisexual in 15 seconds flat) is so artless, wooden and fake that it pushes “Showgirls” from tolerably tacky garbage to garbage period.
  • Nomi’s dancing — As bad as Berkley’s acting is, her dancing is worse. It’s impossible to watch her jerk, twitch and writhe on stage and not recall the infamous Jessie Spano caffeine-pill freakout. The real tragedy in “Showgirls,” though, is that Nomi isn’t on uppers. Pity — those things worked wonders for Jessie!
  • The dialogue — Had the actors in “Showgirls” had any choice in the matter, they’d probably have elected to talk like, I don’t know, regular human beings. Instead, Eszerthas forces them to use lines like “You can’t touch me, but I can touch you. And I’d really like to touch you,” “you’re gonna be a big star. Your face is gonna be up on billboards” or “she looks better than a 10-inch dick and you know it.” Look at the actors’ faces when they drop drivel like this; even they can’t believe what they’re hearing.
  • That Swiss Cheese slice posing as a “plot” — Most movies require suspension of disbelief, but “Showgirls” demands a lobotomy, preferably one that’s self-administered with a screwdriver or a dull nail file (whatever’s handiest). Things happen here so randomly you wonder if Eszerthas interacts with real people or just blow-up dolls: Nomi nearly attacks Molly in the opening scenes, then Molly invites her to live in her trailer. What? Cristal and Nomi have a shared moment over their taste for dog food. Riiiight. Whenever two women appear on screen, they seem nanoseconds away from a vigorous makeout session. Of course they are!
  • The characters — Every character unfortunate enough to have lines in “Showgirls” comes across as phony, flat, atrociously written and utterly annoying, and Nomi is the worst. Every time she opens her mouth you silently pray for an anvil — manna from heaven! — to smash her flat. Or maybe that’s just what I spent 120 minutes doing.
  • And, naturally, the pole-licking bit. Because no other scene so perfectly encapsulates what “Showgirls” is all about: unadulterated and ill-lit sleaze. Oh, and because no other scene ever provoked such an immediate and violent desire to gargle with Clorox and rubbing alcohol.

Grade: F

30 Responses

  1. This seriously sounds like the most putrid movie ever!

    • Wow. “Putrid” might be the best word I didn’t think of to describe it! You sure you haven’t seen it?

  2. It is horrible. It’s so bad that it’s good territory. The couple of scenes that stuck in my mind was the licking the pole, icing the nipples, finding out that Naomi’s bleeding and the granddaddy of them all, the schizophrenic sex scene in the pool. What was that about?

  3. The only issue with this post? Why the shot at Elizabeth Birkley’s nipples? They easily put on the best acting performance in the entire flick.

    • Rats — that’s a GREAT opener for the review, that her nipples gave the best acting performance in the movie! I wish I’d thought of it first.

  4. I’ve never seen this movie, but just from your review I’d imagine it elicits equal parts unintended hilarity, confusion, and revulsion. Sounds truly awful.

    Maybe I’ll see it now…

    • You must! Bad as it was, I don’t regret the two-plus hours I sank into it. Crappy movies can be more fun than the good stuff.

  5. Without question this is one of the worst films to ever grace the silver screen. It earned it’s awful press and then some. I don’t however agree that it was so bad it was good. It was really just one of the worst period.

    • I think I missed the part where it skipped from “just bad” to “so bad it’s actually very good.” Maybe my cell phone rang then.

  6. The pool sex scene is maybe my favorite thing in a movie ever. No, wait, I forgot the chilling climax of Jaws 3D:


    Obviously, much like Avatar, you lose something without the 3-D, but I believe you can still feel the pure terror of a shark coming towards you, despite not moving any fins, stopping suddenly, then shattering glass with the sheer force of will of its badassery.

    The pool scene, in contrast to the fright of Jaws, is a depiction of pure ecstasy. Now, the film cannot account for all our orgiastic reactions (for example, I send a dwarf to blow the horn of Helm Hammerhand in Helm’s Deep when I climax), but it understands that an orgasm is not a split second of nervous overload that results in a spiritual epiphany in which we are all one and any barriers between you and your partner are immaterial and the product of a consciousness that cannot fathom unity. No, it’s not that, it’s a protracted event in which we all flail around like harpooned dolphins being shocked with tazers. You did it, Joe! You cracked the mystery of the O.

  7. is this just a review or part of your Top 100 movies rundown, M Carter?

  8. I can’t believe you know so much about the movie, have you just rewatched it for research purposes or do you remember it. I can remember precisely three things about it (and I may have imagined some of those). Elizabeth Berkley’s character pronounces Versace phonetically as it is spelt and no one corrects her for most of the film. One of the characters pushes one of the other characters down the stairs back stage, can’t remember who pushed who or why. Gina Gershon wears a cowboy hat at some time in the movie.

    That’s about it!

  9. say what you like about Showgirls, and it seems everybody has, it has one of the great movie posters

  10. Great review. I do…shame shame…always remember that thrashing sex scene in the pool. It’s unconsciously one of the funniest sex scenes ever, and it’s played so seriously. Perhaps Elizabeth Berkley should stick with crappy TV and kids programmes…am I correct in remembering her in classic Sunday morning teen show Saved By The Bell.

    • Yes Dan, you are correct — she is none other than Jessie Spano. The link in the review is the link to one of my favorite scenes of her, when she got “hooked” on caffeine pills — not crack, not coke, not heroin, mind you, but CAFFEINE PILLS — and the writers used this as an excuse to teach about the evils of drug use.

  11. I always thought this movie served one purpose, late night porn for the 13 to 15 age range.

    Ah, Jessie Spano and caffeine pills, those were the days!

    • Yes, simpler times. Because what adults really needed to worry about their children getting addicted to was caffeine pills.

  12. Right with ya up until the last one.

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  14. Saw the movie, and it is not such a bad movie at all, in fact, it is pretty good. I can’t think of any other actress who can pull it off other than Elizabeth Berkeley, and I just love the holier than thou attitude that people have here in regards to the movie. I guess it is about strippers and women who made their living with their tops off.

    They are easy targets for disdain and thus we need to wag our fingers at them.

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