”Who do you have to f*** to get off this picture?” — attributed to Bette Davis
Who did Elizabeth Berkley have to f*** to get starred in Showgirls? The movie seems intended as a love letter to her, though I don’t recall anyone in the 1990’s saying, “Remember Jessie from ‘Saved by the Bell’? God, I wish they’d get her into a porno flick so we could see what she’s got!”
What Berkley’s got in Showgirls is a more explicit version of her petulance routine from that Saturday morning teen show. Berkley plays Nomi, a girl essentially from nowhere who wants to become a dancer. (And I do mean from nowhere. She has no family whatsoever, and later in the movie, another character has to explain to her what an M.B.A. is.)
For no good reason, Nomi decides that becoming a dancer involves hitchhiking to Las Vegas. From that point, the script goes into two major loops. One is that, in one form or another, all the major characters have an obsession with either Nomi’s dancing or her breasts. Either Nomi’s being told how beautiful her chest is, or she’s being told how much raw talent she has as a dancer. I don’t know from Las Vegas, but having seen a few dancers and a few breasts in my day, my frank assessment is that Berkley is not outstanding in either department.
The other loop is that Nomi is forever either showing off every inch of her lithe body or doing her best to simulate the sex act, only to go running off in anger every time somebody insinuates that she’s a hooker. Now, where would anyone get that idea (other than her mentors requesting that she ice up her nipples before every show)?
The movie’s main, er, thrust is that Nomi works her way up to being a dancer in a show featuring what we’re told is Vegas’ star attraction, Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon). Eventually, we’re told that Cristal has designs on Nomi, mainly so that screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and director Paul Verhoeven (the same enlightened team behind Basic Instinct) can indulge their lip-smackin’ woman-on-woman fantasies.
From there, the movie goes into a hyper, NC-17 variation of All About Eve, or what it would be if Bette Davis and Ann Baxter decided to get it on before they went into career damage control.
Despite this movie’s seedy reputation, it’s not fun enough to be a “good” bad movie. It does have some Ed Wood-like dialogue whoppers — when Nomi’s old boss sees her hit the big time, he blithely comments, “It must be strange not to have someone c*** on you”—but not enough to sit through this slop. Mostly, the movie makes you wonder how it dragged in actors such as Kyle MacLachlan, “L.A. Law’s” Alan Rachins, and most notoriously, Gina Gershon who, with her big breasts and monotone line readings, comes off like Adrienne Barbeau’s big sister.