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The Awkward Movie Challenge: Showgirls

June 24, 2010 By: Category: Greatest Hits, The Awkward Movie Challenge

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According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.

Jeffrey:

The summer before my junior year at the University of Michigan, I got a job at Record Town in the Briarwood Mall. As record stores go, it was not one. We didn’t sell records. CDs and cassettes only. And cassingles, of course. Hahaha. Cassingles!

I recognized that it was a terrible store for anyone who liked music, but nonetheless, I felt like I’d finally hit the big time. Who wouldn’t want to work in a record store? I mean, working in a cool record store that was not in a mall would have been better, let’s face it. But it was still a bit of a dream come true. There weren’t a lot of real record fans shopping at the mall, though. The Jock Jams compilations did not leave our top 20 bestseller wall in the entire two years I worked there, and that is not hyperbole.

I’m not trying to make you feel bad about your crappy college job. So you worked in the caf, no big deal. Someone had to refill the soft serve machines. But there is a tie-in between Showgirls and Record Town. A few months before the film came out, we received a promotional video at the store featuring 20 minutes of unrated footage from the movie. Like an extended preview kind of thing. I took it home with me because no one else in the store gave a shit about Showgirls. Because no one in America gave a shit about Showgirls. Contrary to what you may have heard in Bible class, the country did not spend 1995 in the grips of Showgirls fever.

From the moment my roommates and I popped the Showgirls tape in, it was clear that this movie was going to suck. The tape was basically the entire movie condensed into 20 minutes, with the exception of the (spoiler-alert) totally unnecessary brutal rape scene that totally unnecessarily occurs near the end of the full-length feature. It quickly moved into our regular late-night viewing rotation, alongside the underseen Crispin Glover/Howard Hesseman masterpiece Rubin and Ed and a 10 minute extended preview of Alice Cooper’s Monster Dog.

It was probably 10 years before I finally saw Showgirls all the way through. And it was every bit as bad as I had assumed it would be. Watching it for the second time last week did not alter my opinion. This was and remains a bad movie full of bad ideas executed poorly by bad people.

It’s hard to say anything new about Showgirls that hasn’t been said before. A quick recap: the terrible script was written by Joe Eszterhas, the guy who also wrote Basic Instinct and several other films that were exactly like Basic Instinct. He was paid $3 million to write Showgirls. He was paid $3 million to write Showgirls. I’m sorry, I don’t think you heard me properly: HE WAS PAID $3 MILLION TO WRITE SHOWGIRLS.

Joe Eszterhas: All Class, All the Time

It was directed by Paul Verhoeven, director of Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers. And also director of Basic Instinct. “Lightning in a bottle!” thought the studio executives. “Eszterhas and Verhoeven together again! Someone get our checkbook!” The single checkbook that all studio executives share.

Actually, I quite like Paul Verhoeven’s films. Robocop is much smarter than you remember, and I am firmly on the “love it” side of the love-it-or-hate-it debate on Starship Troopers. In those films, at least, he seems to know exactly what he’s doing, with his tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Which is what makes Showgirls such an enduring mystery: how could a filmmaker who’d displayed such a fine understanding of irony in the past unintentionally make such a camp masterpiece? Or is it supposed to be this ridiculous? Eszterhas’s intentions, at least, are clear: he thought he was writing the great American stripper story. That guy’s about as ironic as a crying widow on September 11th. But Verhoeven? What’s his excuse?

Everything in this film is done the wrong way, starting with Elizabeth Berkley’s wildly off-the-mark performance in the role of Nomi Malone. This is where the movie does my head in: her performance is so unbelievably over-the-top, I can’t believe she was not instructed to behave that way. If Elizabeth Berkley came up with this portrayal herself, then Elizabeth Berkley is bat-shit crazy. For example, this:

I mean, what? Why are you so mad at that straw? Berkley starts the film at this level and remains there for two hours straight. Why walk away from a situation at a proper speed when you can storm off, shoving everyone in your path out of the way? Why speak in a normal tone of voice when you can scream? Why dance smoothly when you can flail your arms about like you were drowning in air? Berkley’s Nomi Malone is so unlikeable and irritating that I kept hoping she’d be disemboweled by one of the many cars that screech to a halt in front of her during her repeated blind sprints into traffic. There are two things Nomi Malone loves in this world: running into traffic without looking both ways and being naked. Lucky for her, she gets to do both of those things PLENTY throughout the course of the film.

Elizabeth Berkley is very naked in this film. She is naked in ways that no one has been naked before. And just when you think she’s reached the limits of her nakedness, she gets nakeder. She is so naked she’s practically inside-out. The nudity kind of offended me, actually. Not because I have anything against people being naked on film, but because it was such a waste of good nudity.

So is it intentionally goofy, or did something go horribly wrong? My opinion is based on a single line that comes at the end of the second act. After starting out dancing at a sleazy strip club called the Cheetah, Nomi has managed to “work her way up” to a role in a spectacularly unerotic erotic revue. One day, she receives a visit at work from the Cheetah’s swarthy owner and brash emcee. (The emcee is a sassy fat woman who is supposed to come across as a “tough old broad with a heart of gold” but is possibly the most loathsome actress I have ever seen captured on film.) The owner and the emcee share a wistful moment with Nomi and we get the distinct impression that these people are meant to be her parental figures, which, eww. As they turn to leave, the owner says of Nomi’s new job, “Must be weird not having anybody come on you.” This is not played as a gross thing to say. It is played as a poignant moment between Nomi and the guy who’s talking about people ejaculating on her. The expression on her face says, “it is weird not having anybody come on me.” As the come-guy and the giant, bellowing sea cucumber of an emcee walk away, the strings swell on the soundtrack. Nomi watches them walk away with a wistful expression, thinking about how far she’s come in such a short amount of time.

I hate you.

THAT IS NOT REAL. I refuse to believe that is real. That is someone playing a joke on the audience. No one would seriously write that line. And no one would direct it thinking it was a serious line, much less pin the entire emotional arc of a scene on it. It has to be a joke. And if it is meant to be a joke, then the entire film must come crumbling down like a house of cards.

There are so many more issues to address with Showgirls, from its ludicrous, constant-slumber-party view of female interrelationships to that awful, joy-murdering rape scene in the final act. Unfortunately, it would take much more room than I have here to discuss the myriad examples of Showgirls awfulness. There is not a minute of this film that is even accidentally good. But at the same time, it is a riveting two-hour adventure in high camp that must be seen to be believed. I’m going to take away 1 pizza for the rape scene (really, truly shocking and an absolute buzzkill), but give Showgirls a 5 pizza salute for being one of the all-time stinkiest turds in the toilet.

Next page: Mike greases up his stripper pole in preparation for the ride of his life.

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2 Comments to “The Awkward Movie Challenge: Showgirls”


  1. This is awesome. Thank you.

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  2. Great review and I love how perfectly expressed the absolute insanity of the “It must be nice…” scene. My head almost exploded the first time I saw it, I laughed the whole time I was beating my head against the wall.

    I’m a female and I still love this movie but I totally agree that rape scene just ruins everything, to the point I skip right through it. Obviously he made that character a sacrificial lamb in order to elicit the cheapest of cheap “emotionally weighty” moments, like some kind of bizarro attempt to show Nomi’s “loyalty” to her one “true” friend or some shit. It’s still just so damn horrible to watch.

    This review was great, thanks for the read!

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