Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Showgirls V.I.P. Edition (MGM DVD)

Showgirls V.I.P Edition Gift Set


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: B+     Film: C-



It took a long time to for me to get around to see Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 opus Showgirls, especially because I wanted to wait until an NC-17 copy came along with the time and opportunity to take it on.  I am a fan of Verhoeven and had to wonder how bad the film could be.  Besides his usually impressive films made in Holland, his American films have been underrated.  Flesh + Blood (1985) has a deserved following, Robocop (1987, reviewed uncut elsewhere on this site) is a genre classic, Total Recall (1990) had its moments, Basic Instinct (1992) is a great thriller uncut, Starship Troopers (1997) is a grand send-up of Fascism and Hollow Man (2000) is a boldly fun Science Fiction Thriller despite some plot problems.


What seems to turn off those who dislike Verhoeven’s work is how nihilistic the characters are.  What most of them do not know is that this is a feature that is strictly a component of his American films.  With that as a backing, it has made the more intense situation of his characters that much more suspenseful.  Note that critics have successfully shot down all his post-Showgirls works successfully enough to undermine their box office.  This even helped to kill his Crusades epic, even when Arnold Schwarzenegger was attached.  What is interesting is how critics miss the finer, better points of his films.  So the question was, did they do the same to Showgirls?


Well, no.  After finally seeing the film in its uncut glory, I realize what a fatal mistake Verhoeven had made.  The nihilism is totally in tact as he tries to show his idea of the dark side of America through Las Vegas, but the problem is that even armed with a screenplay by the usually solid Joe Eszterhas, another attackee who recently struck back in a tell-all book where he exposes Hollywood and takes few prisoners.  Too bad the screenplay here was not as restrictive.


99.9% of all analysis of this film has been form the film critic school of sarcasm.  This review will now target the many actual mistakes in an effort to make sure a film this bad may never happen again.  One of the biggest mistakes that no one has pointed out is that the film broke one sacred rule about making a film in Las Vegas.  It forgot that Vegas IS always supposed to be a character ion any film it appears in.  Even the highly corporatized Vegas remains so as Martin Scorsese’s Casino proved the same year, a grossly underrated epic about greed and power that Showgirls is light years away from.  The throwaway Mafia line in the beginning of Showgirls and no presence of organized crime in the city further destroys its credibility.


Though MGM/UA made the film with the now-defunct Carolco Pictures, MGM in Vegas (the same company) would not let the film use its locations.  That is a bad sign.  Then, the then-non-actor Elizabeth Berkeley of a very bad teen TV show got the lead and could not carry a line correctly, let alone a film.  The casting was for all the wrong reasons, and one could say youth appeal or her then-good body was minimally sufficient, but it was far more complicated in a way that hurt the film further.  Like Caligula (1980), the last epic of sexual excess that got an X-rating (NC-17 is the modern equivalent), major names we could otherwise take seriously (Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon, Robert Davi, Alan Rachins) show up and are beyond wasted in films that could have killed their careers had they actually been blamable for this mess.  The unknowns become automatically trivialized.


Berkeley plays Nomi (get to “know me”?), who is going to be a dancer in this glamour town, though it is never said that it might be more feasible now that corporations have turned into the “family” town Casino concludes on showing us.  Instead, she shows up and a series of bad things happen to her automatically.  She lands up with a new female friend who lets her live with her, which becomes the impetus for all the idiocy that follows.


Verhoeven and Eszterhas say they went all over Vegas to “research” the film, but it seems they were not looking for Vegas, but a way to justify their shallow tale.  Sure, all the bad and ugly things that happen to women in the film happen in Vegas everyday, but they happen everywhere else too.  With Vegas as a trivialized backdrop instead of a character, and the human characters the equivalent of sexless mannequins (male or female, straight or gay), the film has set itself up for one of the biggest falls in cinema history before the cameras even rolled.  Even if Berkeley were the greatest actress in film history at her peak when she made this, this would have still been a great failure.


Verhoeven boldly abandoned his aspirations and connections to Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma and Stanley Kubrick at the worse possible time.  This is not a thriller per se, so giving it that atmosphere and mistaking that for sex or sexy is an unbelievable miscalculation.  Anything that could have been edgy is undermined by all the mistakes noted.  The nudity is nothing new, the sexual dancing is a joke, especially because it is really just a very watered-down variant of what was done in the Eszterhas-penned, Adrian Lyne-directed Flashdance (1983), except now, the joy and grace has been replaced with anger and very, very bad choreography.  Unlike Flashdance, where Jennifer Beals had to be doubled by a professional dancer, that is not necessary here because no talent is necessary.  It makes you wonder what the audiences in this Vegas were paying their money for.  I would have taken this more seriously if some audience members walked out and even asked for their money back.


Along with the nihilism, there is no depth to any of the characters or extras.  Everyone talks AT each other throughout the over two hours this takes to unfold.  In Basic Instinct, this works when it does because you do not know who is doing what or what will happen next, part of which comes from its connection to Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), as both have writers who become psycho-killers for starters.  The Kubrick equivalent for Showgirls would be Lolita (1962, which Flashdance’s Lyne outright remade).  Nomi is not as underage, but is supposedly innocent, but the character is written with too much flatness and dumbness to ever suggest innocence.


It should be noted that Verhoeven failed at such a thing before in Cathy Tippel (1975), which is pretty much his poorest non-American film.  As for Eszterhas, his portrayal of women in Flashdance and the fate of “woman who loves too much” Beals never truly finds liberation by the end of the film.  I never mind when Eszterhas is politically incorrect about women, especially because he uses that to get the goat of his audience, but in that film and here in Showgirls, it crosses over into misogyny whether he likes it or not.  It backfires so much here that it becomes gay Camp fodder.


A bizarre exception comes towards the end of the film when Nomi’s black friend meets a Michael Bolton (remember him, the white guy who got caught plagiarizing real Soul music from a deceased black male talent, then said he could not have possibly heard the song because they had no such radio station where he grew up?) clone due to Nomi’s sudden star status.  Bolton II wants Nomi’s “behind” as Nomi does the bait-and-switch to thank her friend for helping her out.  When the fan and star get back to his room, he and two of his bodyguards beat her face up, then rape her, which is violent.  Actually more sinister is how the sex is only suggested, actually trivializing the act in some sick nihilistic way.  Then, Bolton II starts licking the blood off of her face!  The senselessly violent would be as laughable as similar scenes in I Spit On Your Grave (1981) because that film was so amateurish.  This is too professionally shot and choreographed, so if the rest of the film was not bad enough, this sent the critics over the edge and Verhoeven and Eszterhas only have themselves to thank for that.  If the idea was to offend the way De Palma was to the ratings board with his once-X-rated 1984 opus Body Double, they missed the point of that film too.


Of course, like I Spit On Your Grave, we have the revenge for the “rape” sequence involving Nomi and her especially painted fingernails.  A critic on the DVD says they take on a life of their own, but a better way to put it is that they get better character development than the cast or location.  Was Nomi’s black friend “punished” for liking a white man who acted or at least sang watered-down black music?  We never know what the music he sings is and considering how bad the film gets we are better off, but the faint suggestion is there.  Most will want to see Jonathan Kaplan’s The Accused (1988) to see how the subject of rape is best handled with Kelly McGillis and Jodie Foster, who won an Academy Award as the victim who fights back in a way that makes sense in a still-ahead of its time film.


By the time this film was over, I had learned nothing about Vegas, life, sex or the title performers.  This was contractually to be a NC-17, a Hollywood first, but its seemingly endless shortcomings put a black eye on the rating and mature adult filmmaking for many years afterwards.  No film with so much nudity, supposed sex and sexual language ever misunderstood sex and human relations so miserably.  Verhoeven should have went back to his filmmaking roots, but American is too oversimplified to him on some levels, yet mistaking that for the real America ultimately kills Showgirls.  What should have been a landmark film on sex and society is now an all-time joke, and Verhoeven and Eszterhas can only blame each other.


As for the bigger stage numbers in Vegas, they all look like “hell’s alley” and such sequences in the Sylvester Stallone-directed Saturday Night Fever sequel Staying Alive (1983), which Paramount hoped would be the male Flashdance around the same time.  Instead, it was an even bigger precursor to Showgirls.  It is Vincente Minnelli and his great Musical The Band Wagon (1953), with Fred Astaire, who plays an older star who wants to try the Broadway stage.  One egomaniacal producer wants him for a production of Faust that he sees as the future of the Stage Musical, complete with a set made up to look like Hell and flash-powder going off to the rhythm of the bad music.  It is a disaster and his dancing co-star Cyd Charisse joins him in knowing what a disaster it is.  Since the 1980s, this disaster keeps happening in the kind of cinema history no one wants to see repeat itself.  The darkness/nudity combination was never impressive to begin with and is now beyond cliché, and Minnelli and company knew this long before it became commonplace.  I would like to think Showgirls would put a cinematic end to this, but with so many bad Music videos form the Rock & Hip Hop genres, the nightmare is not over yet.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image was shot by Verhoeven’s now-retired cinematographer Jost Vacano, A.S.C., and this is easily his worst work.  He used Super 35 instead of real Panavision (or a great anamorphic equivalent) and the look is lame, like a bad 1980s left over.  The nudes look like death and the constrictiveness of the shooting makes it more like a bad TV show or even some XXX films or tapes.  The quality here is the usual troubles with Video Red and some finer details not clear.  I doubt digital High Definition would make this any better.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 AC-3 mix is not too impressive, despite being a recent release and made available in all three digital theatrical formats (Dolby, DTS, SDDS).  The resulting presentation is as flat as the film, and it wastes music by Prince when he was not Prince.


Extras on the DVD include the trailer, a four-section diary to show how Verhoeven actually storyboarded some of the sex/dancing sequences, an on-screen pop-up trivia feature, two sections on how to lap dance with women from the real-life Scores club; one within the film like the pop-ups and the other a five-minutes-long segment that taught more about these dancers than all of Showgirls.  The most amusing segment of all is the informative audio commentary by David Schmader, who did not work on the film at all, but has toured with the film narrating how extremely bad it really is.  M-G-M very wisely got him to do this commentary to detail everything that went wrong.  It is a Gay perspective as well, but there is more than enough non-Gay facts and truths about how bad this film is and for someone who does not know much about Verhoeven or Eszterhas, offers some excellent observations about how plastic the film is.  He correctly states that it is amazing how everyone makes the worst possible choice at every turn and that few films are this consistently bad.  When your film gets this treatment, you know what a bomb it is.


Finally, the V.I.P. box offers oversized cards that suggest various games, specifically drinking games.  You also get a blindfold, two shot glasses, and a glossy poster of a nipple-prominent dancer.  It is a game called “Pin The Pasties On The Showgirl” and two pasties are included.  Too bad so many better films do not get such grand treatment.


Many filmmakers reach their nadir, but few as badly as Verhoeven did on Showgirls.  His films since have brought him back to what he does best.  With Eszterhas retired, we can only hope Verhoeven has drained himself of all this idiocy and never returns to this territory again.  One such celebrated ugliness is enough.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com