A young drifter named Nomi arrives in Las Vegas to become a dancer and soon sets about clawing and pushing her way to become a top showgirl.
Now, from the same team responsible for Basic Instinct, the first film to get a wide release in North America while carrying the normally prohibitive NC-17 rating there. Here it's the very R-rated Showgirls.
Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley), a beautiful but not very bright young woman with a murky past she's at pains to hide, hitch-hikes to Las Vegas, hoping to find work as a dancer. After some initial setbacks, she befriends Molly (Gina Ravera), who makes rather small costumes for the women who dance topless at the Stardust. Molly lets Nomi move in her cramped trailer. Soon, Nomi is dancing at the sleazy Cheetah's strip club, where for bonus money, she performs nude lap dances for high rollers. One of her customers is Zach Carey (Kyle MacLachlan), the Stardust Entertainment director and lover of the show's arrogant star Cristal (Gina Gershon). Through her relationship with Zach, Nomi finds a way of moving up in the world.
Writer Joe Eszterhas receives astronomical fees for his script, and as the amounts get larger, the script gets poorer. Seemingly inspired by All About Eve, his script for Showgirls hits rock bottom and is full of poor dialogue and contrived situations. Fortunately, Paul Verhoeven is an accomplished filmmaker, and he does better than you might have expected with the mundane material. This ultra sleazy world, where sex is just another basic commodity, is vividly explored by Verhoeven's widescreen camera; the contrast between the lavish show at the Stardust and the downmarket strip routines at the Cheetah are acutely observed, as are the backstage bitching and the superficial relationships. The only decent character here is Molly, though some sympathy is also given to James Smith (Glenn Plummer), who has ambitions to be a dancer, but whose libido keeps getting in his way.
Despite Verhoeven's skills, it's difficult to care about Nomi, or indeed for any of the characters in this sordid, depressing milieu.
Margaret: No one minds a walk on the wild side, 'Ok let's see how the other half lives', but they're so uninteresting these characters, and so dislikable, that you just can't have any sympathy for them at all. And I don't actually agree with you, I think the strip show in the cheap club looks exactly the same as the strip show at the expensive club. If you think about that wonderful car sequence in Basic Instinct, where Verhoeven's visual skills are really extraordinary on some occasions, I just don't think it's at all exciting. And I just sort of felt smirched, besmirched.
David: I understand what you mean, but I did think that he got - he didn't get away with it, but because he's a skilled filmmaker, I thought he made the best of a very sleazy situation.
Margaret: I think he's a naughty boy with bad judgement on this one.