Review: “Showgirls”

There’s a big difference between awful movies and trash. Awful movies like “The Master of Disguise” or pretty much any release in January are poorly made and dull as dishwater. Trash on the hand goes beyond bad in its construction to the point that there’s a great sense of fun watching something so terrible. Whilst there’s all sorts of movies that can be classified as ‘the worst film ever made’, when it comes to trash there is simply one queen of them all – Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 cinematic classic “Showgirls”.

Taken as a film, “Showgirls” is woeful. The script, the acting, the editing, the tone etc. are all so wildly off target and plain amateur that there’s more colour and depth in the neon lights of the surrounding scenery than the characters who populate onscreen. Taken as it should be though, a camp sassy vain work of unintentional comedy, it is genius.

Forget the story of a dancer struggling to hit the top, “Showgirls” lingers in the memory for its unabashed interpretation of sexuality. Is it erotic? Hardly, but it is hilarious. Characters have all the spite of Simon Cowell and the bitchy shallowness of your average Hollywood ‘player’, combined with a desire for pure excess in everything – drugs, sex, quips, etc. It’s two hours of catfights spoken at the lowest common denominator.

The actors, almost all acting with total seriousness as if they’re struggling for Oscars, only add to the comedy. Elizabeth Berkeley gives it her all, too much in fact – as a result not only are her quiet scenes overacted but she constantly breaks out into “Little Miss Pissed Off” mood at five minute intervals.

It’s really hard to tell if Kyle MacLachlan character’s being constantly coked off his head is actually acting. The actor plays it very plain, but his scenes with Berkeley are smirk-inducingly awful and culminate in a now infamous pool sex scene which resembles an epileptic seizure far more than any act of carnal desire. Gershon is the one who at least seems to be slightly in on the joke and so indulges herself in plenty of overboard scenes – playing the part just right.

This is also a film of Joe Ezterhas’s legendary dialogue that ain’t no Shakespeare. Amongst the many pearls of wisdom there’s social commentary (“It must be weird, not having anybody cum on you”), health topics (“She misses us like that lump on my twat I had taken off last week”), veterinary concerns (“I used to love Doggy Chow, too!”) and droll witty conversations the likes Oscar Wilde could not have dreamed of (“Oh, I’m a slut? Well, you fucked that kid from the pizza place!”, “Well, you fucked the meter reader”, “Bitch!”).

If you don’t remember the lines, you’ll certainly remember the scenes such as the doggie doo on stage, the ice on the nipples audition, the hospital kiss, etc. Many of the scenes still linger in memory, even the one sour note of the film – the quick, but still one of the most brutal rape scenes put on film that still disturbs me to this day (ok so “Irreversible” is far worse, but rape of any kind onscreen upsets and freaks me out).

Call it what you will though. Verhoeven was always a director that only some people got his sense of humour. From the more blatant laughs of “Robocop” and “Starship Troopers”, to the tighter darker “Total Recall” and “Basic Instinct”, they’re films you’ll either love or think little of. “Showgirls” is the most divisive American movie he ever did, one which almost everyone can’t stand but if you can and indulge in its insanity, the rewards are very satisfying.

It is essentially what it sets out to achieve – a two hour Vegas show complete with flashy visuals, lots of tits, and trashy values. Even though they didn’t set out to become such a pinnacle of camp, in some ways “Showgirls” has left a far more indelible impression as is than if it had actually been any good.