Thursday, September 29, 2011
Paul Verhoeven's Bad Piece of Cult Cinema
My T.V is gonna smell like hairspray for a week. That, other things and my saliva. So we know Paul Verhoeven's 1995 cult classic Showgirls (the winner of a record 8 Golden Raspberry awards out of a whopping 14 nominations including worst picture, worst director, worst screenplay, worst debut and many more) works on at least one level, with at least one person. Bull-dumb lust, however, is pretty easy to stir up; the question is whether the movie works in any other way. The answer is, undeniably, no.
The NC 17 rated Showgirls clocks in at 131 tooth-extracting minutes, time mostly spent watching as our agitated heroine Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley), for no apparent reason, shoves people and tells them to go fuck themselves. By the time I was an hour into it, I'd been overcome with a rabid urge to reach inside my television and give the paroxysmal Nomi a time-out.
What Showgirls wants to be is another Horatio Alger story gone wrong, where the small- town girl seeks her kismet in a dazzling showcase of the American dream (yes, that would be Las Vegas), only to find that the American dream is hogwash, that she can trust no one, and that before she can find triumph, she must sell her soul.
This is naturally a problem straight out of the gate, since the Horatio Alger myth was pretty well discredited a half-century ago. The Vegas of movies that came out during that time along with Show Girls such as the heartbreaking Nicholas Cage's Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Swingers (1996); or even Tim Burton's hilarious Mars Attacks! (1996) is already a wasteland before the opening credits roll. People come to Vegas to either die, kill themselves with drugs ala Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), profiteer, or score cheap unprotected sex. As a result Showgirls works for two hours to get us to the Vegas these other, better films use as a place of exit.
Our first taste of Nomi's exasperating rage comes before the movie is two minutes underway, when she catches a ride with Jeff (Dewey Weber), the creepy stranger in a dirty pickup most movie females get stuck with when they hitchhike. His predictable advance is really rather harmless, almost unimposing but the volatile Nomi responds by pulling a switchblade on him. Now who's battering whom, exactly?
This continues as Nomi abuses everyone around her, first at the Cheetah, a strip bar, then at the Stardust, the hotel-cum-dinner-club where she gets a popular job as a chorus girl. Several folks the Stardust headline - Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon), for one, as well as James Smith (Glenn Plummer), an sober but also corrupt amateur choreographer testify to Nomi's natural dancing talent after watching her thrust her pelvis or kick people in the balls. Nomi takes the compliments none too gracefully by shoving, kicking, or spitting at her fans before calling them bitches, whores, or assholes.
When her frenzied behavior is eventually explained – that she comes from an abusive family and is trying to leave behind a life of drug addiction and prostitution - it's a little too late to be heartrending since you've spent the last hour and a half hoping the movie will somehow punish her. Unfortunately, the Horatio Alger dynamic hinges on your caring about Nomi in some way but because this is so hard, everything else the movie tries to do falls flat.
Those expecting gratuitous nudity or considering a straightforward sex romp into B-movie crapdom or a guilty T&A inspired soft core carnal treat could do better than watching Showgirls, no matter its cult status. Since seeing it last night, I've already shoved two of my office colleagues for no reason I could figure out, and I divine being in a pissed frame of mind for the rest of the day.
To put it another way: Anyone who sees Showgirls can go fuck themselves! Asshole! Now why did I say that?
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