The Way of All Flesh

Fans of Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann rejoice! With his excruciatingly moronic script for Showgirls, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Flashdance, Basic Instinct) strips off all the layers of pseudo-social conscience that informed his two collaborations with director Costa-Gavras (Betrayed and Music Box) and exposes himself as the heir apparent to Susann's and Robbins's trash-writing legacy.

It's customary for a film critic to include some sort of plot synopsis with his review. But no traditional capsule summary could do justice to Eszterhas's lowbrow genius. Therefore I've decided to forgo convention and simply recap the entire story by quoting lines of actual dialogue from Showgirls. Setup: An aspiring "dancer" comes to Vegas, loses all her money, becomes a stripper, and auditions for a flesh-and-flash revue at the Stardust, one of the city's hotel-casinos. For maximum effect, mouth these lines out loud to yourself:

"Lose all your money, honey? Wanna make some more?"
"Sooner or later you're gonna have to sell it."
"Life sucks. Shit happens."
"If you wanna last more'n a week, you gotta give me a blowjob."
"First I get you used to the money. Then I make you swallow."
"You got more natural talent than any dancer I ever seen."
"You're fuckin' without fuckin'. It ain't right!"
"Come back when you've fucked some of that baby fat off."
"I'm erect. Why aren't you erect?"
"You got into some bad shit someplace, didn't you?"

"She's got it." "I wonder how she got it." "She learned it." "She learned it all right. But they don't teach it in any class."

"Look, I have a problem with pussy. I always have and I always will."
"I used to love Doggy Chow!" "I used to love Doggy Chow, too!"
"Best piece of advice anyone ever gave me, honey -- if you're the last one standing, you get the job."

"You have great tits. They're really beautiful."
"Saw the show. You were good, kid. Real good. Must be weird not having anyone come on you."

"I liked it when you came. I liked your eyes."
"We gotta shut the show down." "Not a chance! The show goes on!"
"There's always someone younger and hungrier than you are coming down the stairs."

It took writing, acting, and directing of unprecedented ineptitude to make a movie so bad that a steady parade of gorgeous nude bodies cannot offset the tedium. Nearly all of those nekkid bods are female, of course. Once again the old Hollywood double standard applies; there is no male frontal nudity, and only one shot of actor Kyle MacLachlan's unremarkable derriäre to compensate for beaucoup de bare breasts. But even candid closeups of Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas au naturel couldn't have saved this bomb. Don't be fooled by advertising copy warning you to "leave your inhibitions at the door." The film fails both as lurid trash and as erotic revel. Showgirls damn near gives movie nudity a bad name.

The most provocative element of Showgirls is its marketing campaign. Don't worry about your inhibitions -- check your credulity at the door. This is a movie that exalts headlining a Vegas revue as if it were as newsworthy and as estimable an accomplishment as starring in a Broadway musical; Showgirls brazenly equates cavorting about in a garish spectacle with serious dance. More egregiously, the promise of titillation is all peep-show come-on. I applaud the filmmakers and distributors for having the guts to flaunt their NC-17 rating; if the movie had been any good, it might have persuaded other filmmakers (or, more to the point, their distributors) not to cave in and edit controversial works to suit the whims and fancies of the capricious, hypocritical, and woefully sexually repressed ratings board. Unfortunately Showgirls is such garbage that it stands a much higher chance of getting creamed at the box office than it would have had it lived up to its own hype.

As for putative star Elizabeth Berkley's motion picture "acting" debut, let's just say that if you harbor fond memories of her days on the television sitcom Saved by the Bell, you should not sully them by witnessing her degrading (not degrading because the things she's pretending to do are so naughty -- rather, degrading because she's so horrible) performance here. Berkley gets one thing right -- she's limber. But as a thespian she makes Pia Zadora look like Meryl Streep. Her big line, repeated over and over: "I'm not a whore." Berkley utters those words so many times that she apparently overextended herself experimenting with the phrasing: "I'm not a whore!" "I'm not a whore!" "I'm not a whore!" Bet you can't guess her character's big secret....

She should be saying "I'm not a dancer!" Berkley does a pretty good approximation of a stripper, but in a nightclub and during tryouts for the revue at the Stardust she moves like a spastic karate instructor, flailing her arms and stomping about gracelessly. While she has a good figure -- and while just about every part of her body receives plenty of exposure -- the feature of her anatomy you'll most remember is her tongue. Showgirls showcases Berkley's lingual dexterity; her lengthy appendage slithers up a brass pole in a strip club, curls down to lick her own nipples, and slides into several eager mouths. (I'm not saying it couldn't happen, but I've never seen a stripper lick the pole -- after all, she knows where it's been.)

The fact that Kyle MacLachlan still has an acting career after slumming through Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and The Flintstones ought to encourage even the least talented performers out there to keep on plugging away. If Kyle MacLachlan can make it, anyone can. And Robert Davi sinks to new depths of sleaze as he sleepwalks through a bit part as an acne-scarred, blowjob-obsessed strip-club owner; nice to see him stretching from his usual roles as sleazy drug dealers and sleazy wise guys. Hope he cashed his check and got out of town quick enough to avoid losing all his dough at the gambling tables. Only sultry Gina Gershon and L.A. Law's Alan Rachins seem to realize what a shlockfest they're in, engaging in some over-the-top fun with their characters.

Releasing a major-studio (in this case, United Artists) film rated NC-17 is a gamble. If the film's quality has any bearing on its financial potential, this movie likely will crap out. But these days a movie often makes or breaks its fortune during its opening weekend; this picture's backers are obviously hoping their aggressive, suggestive, so-dirty-we-can't-even-show-you-a-single-scene publicity campaign will attract enough curious ticket buyers to break the bank before word of mouth leaks out. Too bad. Strip clubs and Las Vegas are two venerable American institutions. Showgirls does neither of them justice. After all, why waste $6.50 on a badly executed celluloid lap dance when you can get the real thing for only five bucks?

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