App. # 922.95/MG20
Point of Origin Metro Golden Mayer, through Carolco Pictures
Passage Via Verhoeven, Paul – Eszterhas, Joe
The next outcast applying for entry onto the island is the infamous and infantile, the revered and reviled, the distasteful and disastrous epic of Vegas dancers. Over the years this film has been embraced for blatantly messy reasons, but it has also been hailed for far less obvious reasons.
There has been an amount of revisionist history on this film, with some making the claim that this is serious cinema. Yea except, um Hell No! No damned way. Some film esthetes over the years proclaimed this an intentional farce. The academics tell us director Paul Verhoeven made a scathing indictment of the entertainment complex, an unvarnished look into how lives and souls can be ground up like so much meat. To approach that claim means this film is interpretational; resembling some art it can mean various things. Think of that – calling this fiasco “art”. Lofty interpretations, to be sure — and to that I call “bullshit”.
I see it this way: The story of a bi-polar hamburger-loving skank with anger-management issues who shits on those close to her and ultimately pays the price of becoming ridiculously famous. See, we all can find something unique. But these claims of a subversive subtext are easily dismissed.
First, if these themes were intentional somebody would have picked up on them upon release. It should not take years for this egghead revisionism to surface. Secondly, for this theory – it’s so bad that it just has to be willful satire – to bear out every component would be involved. After all, the risible story and asinine dialogue must be a scathing indictment on screen writing, right? So the laughable performances are a scathing critique on thespians? I’m sorry, this does not hold up; it is akin to looking for an elevated commentary on society by digging around in the landfill.
The best way to disprove this high minded interpretation is to look at the words of the writer and director surrounding the release. They never expressed their intention to make a social commentary, as the revisionists insist. Gina Gershon even altered her performance from what she expected to be a dark and serious film. “I decided to make my part campy,” the actress said after shooting. “(The film) turned out to be completely different. So instead . . . I decided to make it so that drag queens would want to dress as my character for Halloween.” Additionally Verhoeven maintained his pride in the project as-is, all the way up to accepting a clutch of Razzie Awards in person that year. Later he would lay claim to the condition of the film, accepting it as the result of taking artistic risks. So much for the academic interpretations.
In the early 90s the internet was a burgeoning mystery, so readily available dial-up porn was not yet the norm, and movie audiences proved hungry for adult-themed features. The controversial “Basic Instinct” was a smash, and the steamy thriller “Sliver” gained some attention. The writer of both films, Joe Eszterhas, pocketed a cool $2 million upfront for his “Showgirls script (with an additional $1.3 after production) to reteam with the director of “Instinct” for a retread of “All About Eve”, with some “A Star is Born” elements. MGM ponied up $45 million for a budget, and the newfound clout of Verhoeven and Eszterhas meant they could demand editorial control. The result — the widest release ever for an NC-17 title.
After some big-name actresses were considered they mostly went with unproven talent, including the lead going to the overmatched Elizabeth Berkley, playing Nomi Malone. Her name is shorthand backstory – “Know me, I’m alone” – so the actress obviously felt character development wasn’t needed. Berkley’s performance is a testament to overt expressiveness and a complete lack of modulation. This even bears out in her dance moves, where Berkley — while talented afoot – ardently juts her limbs around with the violent grace of a pneumatic spot-welder. Her acting is likewise emphatic. When Nomi is happy she’s ECSTATIC, running and chortling like she’s on meth. When Nomi is angry she is PISSED-OFF! A first-year psych-major can diagnose bi-polar disorder while chewing their popcorn. Over the years “Showgirls” drinking games have sprung up, and I can offer another. Take a shot every time Nomi instantly snaps into her fury and storms away from a scene; you’ll blackout before the credits, guaranteed.
It takes little time to throw back a few jiggers. At the open Nomi is hitchhiking to Vegas to become a dancer, getting picked up by a cowboy in his pickup. Barely underway she gets a petulant sneer on her face and brandishes a switchblade. This marks the first of numerous times she becomes an insufferable bitch towards anyone helping her out. The guy promises her a job at a casino but soon she’s swindled out of her belongings – those hitchhiker suitcases are a goldmine! While taking her frustration out on a car Molly, the owner, approaches to stop her, just as she vomits. (Huh?) Nomi’s shrieking and property damage lead to Molly taking sympathy and buying her a burger. This leads to another bitchy tantrum, so naturally she gets invited to move in with Molly. Now there’s a wise decision.
After taking a job as a stripper Nomi joins Molly one day where she works, backstage at a Vegas revue called “Goddess”. Her thankless job: wardrobe person at a stripper revue. This brings up one of my favorite Hollywood story devices, the Elevated Reel-ality, where absurdities are presented as movie normalcy. Here we are sold that dancers in a Vegas titty-review are fabulously famous. Handlers dote on their whims, press conferences cover them, and famous celebrities beg for dates, all because they dance naked in front of paper mache’ volcanoes.
The stage revue is a ghastly dinner theater affair with insufferable dance routines and music that sounds like the intro for an NFL highlights program. (Tellingly, Verhoeven and Eszterhas originally conceived this spectacle for a Chanel ad campaign.) Backstage Nomi is introduced to Crystal Connors (Gershon), the star. During a pleasant talk Crystal calmly declares that swinging from a pole is not truly dancing – and cue Nomi’s vulgar stomp-off exit. Molly catches up to tell Nomi she nearly got her fired, then rewards the behavior by taking her to a nightclub. Nomi catches the eye of James, who at 5’3”, 120lbs is naturally the bouncer. In his spare time he is also a choreographer — No I swear, he is. He tells Nomi she has talent and wants to teach her. Nomi expresses her interest by kneeing James is the crotch, sparking a fight on the dance floor, and ultimately getting herself arrested. Such a magnetic character, this Nomi.
She is sprung the next morning, courtesy of James. See her assault, his getting attacked, and getting fired all inspired him to pay bail for this wild bitch he hardly knows. Nomi shows her gratitude by storming away and tossing him a quarter for a cup of coffee, driving off in a fit of giggles. At work that night the crew from “Goddess” arrives to watch Nomi perform. Crystal takes Nomi in the back to give a lap dance to the show producer Zack (Kyle McLachlan). Nomi gives him a vigorous dry hump and he climaxes in his Armani slacks, but the scene lacks sexual energy. Maybe it was the artificially staged proceedings — or maybe the distracting Nazi haircut Kyle chooses for his character.
The next night Nomi is told her fluid-inducing performance earned her an audition for “Goddess”. After making it to the final cut she is challenged by the director, so of course she responds to a shot at her dream job by raging and storming off. She encounters James outside, where he tells her he has written a dance for her. (People do that? Write dances? Okay. . .). They share a burger and a steamy night, then returning home Nomi learns her anti-social behavior actually earned her a spot in the show. Amazingly this movie gives us a heroine who, rather than fostering sympathy, makes us root for somebody to deliver a closed-fist punch to the neck.
At the theater she is introduced to the staff, where there is a running gag on Nomi describing her Versace’ dress as “Ver-sayce”. Oh, she’s such a rube, because rubes mispronounce the names of fashion designers! She is brought out to run through the routine and the gay stage manager barks about her choreography. This peek into the dark backstage life of a stage show is mirthful as the fey Marty is shrieking at her crotch. The subtleties of this film never cease.
As she settles into life as a showgirl Nomi has harsh lessons ahead. Crystal is taking more than a passing interest in Nomi, and the seedy side reveals itself to our heroine. Nomi performs at a boat convention where she is expected to sleep with some high rollers. Hey now, it looks like we are about due for another shot of her storming away in a huff! And once again I was pondering the concept of girls being swarmed with autograph hounds once they are trotted out to shake their goodies on the bow of a Bayliner.
Once bathed in the decadence of her profession Nomi sets her sights upwards. She goes home with Zack and marvels at his sprawling estate, impressed with the tacky charms of his dolphin fountain and the neon festooned swimming pool. Hell, that crap probably appeals to a girl wearing “Versayce”. They go skinny dipping and this leads to the signature laugh of the film – Nomi’s convulsive romp on top of Zack in the water, which again comes off as less than erotic. Her spasmodic thrusting actually produces a wake, looking less like sex than an epileptic seizure. Instead of arousal Zack should focus on putting a spoon in her mouth to keep her from swallowing her tongue!
Nomi’s self-debasement leads to good fortune. Crystal’s understudy becomes hurt and Nomi is given the slot, but Crystal gets bitchy about her sleeping with Zack and has the position taken away. Nomi, in retaliation, pushes the star down the stairs during one show, her wounds meaning the role falls into the lap of our lapdancer. Man, “Goddess” has more injuries than the Dallas Cowboys in a playoff stretch. Of course Nomi’s rise to the top calls for more press conferences, and at her coming out party there is high excitement as superstar recording artist Andrew Carver attends. Molly has fantasized over Carver so they get introduced and she is shown his palatial suite, where Molly is graphically gang-raped by Carver and his guards.
Clever gents that they are Molly is simply allowed to walk free, bloodied in torn fashions, straight back to the party. Nomi then learns the company will do nothing; Carver is part of the organization and she is expected to walk the corporate line, because Zack did a background check and recants her lengthy history of solicitation arrests. Bear in mind, Zack ferrets out this info about her after they decided to put the weight of the show on Nomi’s shoulders — not so sharp for this guy who bragged about his MBA degree. Nomi exacts her own revenge by bloodying Carver via stiletto. She distracted him with makeup on her nipples, making them resemble pepperoni. — his tongue actually turns red from suckling.
At the hospital Nomi says goodbye to Molly, then to Crystal, and she arbitrarily hitchhikes out of town. The first truck to stop for her, of course, is the same country mook who brought her to Vegas — a neat little bow on the top of this glaring disaster.
Some may wonder how this all unraveled, but all you need to do is look at exactly how depraved the writer Eszterhas had become during the creative process. Not only does he favor misogynistic story lines; not only does he favor dialogue such as, “It must be weird, not having anybody cum on ya.”, or “She misses us like that lump I had removed from my twat!”, he also fashioned the Andrew Carver character after himself:
Want a peek into the mind of a creative satyr-ist? I’d say it speaks volumes that in order for him to draw inspiration for a violent sexual predator all he did was look in the mirror.
Staus of Passage: APPROVED