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Review: Showgirls (1995)

Showgirls (1995)

Directed by: Paul Verhoeven

Premise: A drifter (Elizabeth Berkley) hitchhikes her way to Las Vegas in pursuit of a dream of stardom. She works at a seedy gentlemen’s club until she joins the chorus line of a major hotel production.

What Works: There have been attempts to manufacture cult titles with movies such as Repo! The Genetic Opera and Snakes on a Plane. This rarely works out. For one, cult titles often require time to accrue their audience; these films typically fail in their initial release and are gradually discovered as was the case with The Room and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. For another, cult films are usually earnest; their makers don’t wink and nod at the viewer and that authenticity speaks to the cult audience. Showgirls was released with a lot of fanfare in 1995. It was an NC-17 rated film produced by a major studio, helmed by an esteemed director and writer, and starred an actress who was best known for her role on a bland an inoffensive high school sitcom. The film was a notorious disaster that was a critical and commercial failure; Showgirls had the distinction of earning a record number of Razzie Awards and was later named “Worst Movie of the Decade” by that organization. And by any conventional metric, Showgirls is terrible. But in the years since its release the movie has enjoyed a reevaluation and it has accumulated a dedicated fan base. Showgirls has all the elements of a successful cult movie: it was disparaged and cast out by the mainstream, it was made with earnest intentions, its story speaks to outsiders and non-joiners, and it has a trashy and sinful appeal. It’s also frequently and unintentionally hilarious with hammy acting and absurdly over-the-top sexuality. Looking at the movie now, Showgirls was clearly intended to be a sardonic take on the sex industry in particular and show business more generally. Filmmaker Paul Verhoeven had successfully done something similar with action and sci-fi movies like Robocop and Starship Troopers and it’s easy to read Showgirls as an All About Eve-like satire. The movie juxtaposes the straightforward exploitation of the seedy Cheetah Club with the glamour of the Stardust Hotel and ultimately suggests there is no difference between the two. Had that idea been handled a little differently it could have resulted in a successful movie. But as it is, that idea gives Showgirls a self-seriousness that contrasts with the badness of the rest of the film and makes it oddly likable.

What Doesn’t: Showgirls is not a good movie. The acting is terrible, the dialogue is laughable, and the plot is frequently absurd. Of course, those are qualities familiar to cult movies and viewers who come to Showgirls for the right reasons will probably embrace the movie’s flaws. Showgirls is a good time because it is often a pleasant kind of badness. However, there is one sequence that isn’t fun –a brutal moment of sexual violence that is out of sync with the cartoonish tone of the rest of the movie.

DVD extras: The blu-ray edition includes a commentary track, featurettes, trivia, and a trailer. 

Bottom Line: Showgirls is terrible in a so-bad-it’s-good way and it has become a cult classic. Like most cult titles, Showgirls isn’t for everybody but for viewers who get it this is an entertaining work of kitsch.

Episode: #768 (September 29, 2019)