When it pranced out, Showgirls (1995, 131 minutes), was director Paul Verhoeven's much-anticipated follow up to the sinfully successful, Basic Instinct. But the film tripped and fell flat on its pasties, amid a rain of critical and public raspberries. It was a 45 million dollar disaster. But it is also one of the better B-movies masquerading as a mainstream flick ever made. It has all the qualities one looks for: cheesy dialogue, paper-thin characters, barely-recognizable plot and tons of gratuitous nudity. But perhaps the biggest hallmark is an actress DESPERATELY trying to shake her good-girl image. Namely, 21-year-old Elizabeth Berkley, who developed some lovely talents on TV's teen comedy "Saved by the Bell." Among the girls of Bayside High School, Jessie Spano wasn't the one most would pick to become a big-screen Jezebel. (My bet would have been Tiffani-Amber Thiessen.) Which is exactly why Ms. Berkley popped her top -- SHE was gonna be the next Sharon Stone! Ah, Hollywood.
The movie: This is the tender tale of a young woman's struggle toward a dream -- to pick herself up by her g-string and put her lap-dancing days behind her. Nomi Malone (Berkley) hitchhikes to Las Vegas, is robbed and almost becomes a 90-pound road pizza, before a kindly stranger, Molly Abrams (Gina Ravera), invites Nomi to crash at her place for awhile. Six weeks later, the two gal pals are living like trailer queens and tickled to death about it. It is at about this time, between gigs at a strip club named Cheetahs, Nomi sees a hot new showgirl act at the Stardust hotel, called "Goddess." Her big, Bambi eyes light up as dancers spill across the stage, but it's when Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon), the star of the extravaganza, erupts -- topless -- on stage from a volcano, that Nomi starts to hover about six inches off the ground. Standing in the audience, she matches Cristal's dance moves, to great comic effect, while dancers hump like rabbits on stage. It's a done deal, now, Nomi knows EXACTLY what she wants to be when she grows up. Al Torres (Robert Davi), Nomi's Cheetahs boss, thinks she's crazy for leaving his club, "You just got $500 for a lap dance. What are you upset about?!" (CineSchlockers will remember Davi from the Maniac Cop movies and the great Predator 2.) But, Nomi's got a dream now, so there's no stopping her. Except for the fact, Cristal, who lustfully licks her chops at just the sight of Nomi, is a Queen Witch (with a capital B). Ms. Gershon savors the role, but massacres a Texas accent in the process. It's amusing, though, as she taunts Nomi (aka. "Darlin"), while inexplicably working to further the young dancer's career. Well, her motive isn't THAT unclear. Meanwhile, there are numerous dance numbers, which are thankfully short and fleshy -- a particular favorite is the S&M motorcycle gang number. Elizabeth Berkley is ultimately believable as Nomi, but where she fails is in her frequent fits of rage -- she stomps around, chin out, teeth clasped in a sneer -- which strike the funny bone, rather than fear. Nomi soon falls into the classic greed-is-good trap, despite Molly's attempts to rattle her morality cage. It is a road that leads to Nomi diddling her boss, Zack Carey (Kyle MacLachlan), half to death and, in the process, sloshing out most of the water in the swimming pool they're in. With that significant career move, things can only get better for young Nomi -- or will they. You can see the 12-story neon sign ahead as clearly as anyone. But hang around to see Nomi whup some serious butt.
Notables: 58 breasts. Hitchhiking. Puking. Exploding volcano. One disco brawl. Pole licking. Nose candy. Lesbian tongue rasslin. Nipple twisting. Switchblade brandishing. Gratuitous pose-striking. Aunt Flo fu. Runaway monkeys. Multiple cat fights. Leg shaving. Stair rolling. Stiletto heel as weapon. Face spitting. Multiple diddling. Gratuitous dancing queens.
Quotables: A big high-five to screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (who also scribed such classics as Sliver, Jade and Flashdance) for having Cristal whine, "This top is way too tight! My breasts are just getting crushed in here." ... Dante McCarthy (as Carmi the stripper) ask, "Do my boobs look any bigger to you?" ... for having Glenn Plummer (as James the wannabe Romeo) sweet talk Nomi, "Bitch, I'm telling you the truth!" ... Alan Rachins (as ultra-slimeball Tony Moss) berate a buxom auditioner, "What are these!? Watermelons? This is a stage, babe -- it's not a patch. See ya!" ... Patrick Bristow (as Marty the fussy choreographer) snap at Nomi, "Thrust it! Thrust it!" ... and finally, for having Nomi, herself, say such dimwitted stuff like, "What's an MBA?"
Time codes: The explosive volcano number, featuring Ms. Gershon (10:30). Nomi has a spastic fit on the dance floor (16:00). Henrietta Bazoom's peek-a-boobs trick (19:55). Kyle MacLachlan gets a $500 lap dance from Ms. Berkley -- and makes his own change (28:45). Cristal compliments Nomi's breasts (1:07:30). Zack and Nomi diddle frantically in a pool (1:23:55). A heart-warming reconciliation ... with tongue (2:00:55).
Audio/Video: Surprisingly robust, detailed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Equally sensational video quality in this widescreen (2.35:1) print.
Extras: Five minute featurette. Theatrical trailer. Animated menus (with neon). Two pages of liner notes gleaned from the original press kit.
Final thought: The flick is one of those that begs the question, "What the hell were they thinking?!" It's deliciously awful. A true guilty pleasure. Highly recommended.
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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.