There are bad movies. There are exploitative movies. There are sleazy movies. Then there is Showgirls, which sets new lows for all of the above. This movie wallows in its sleaze from start to finish, sabotaging itself in every way in the process.

Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley, doing a 180-degree turn from Saved by the Bell) has hitchiked from out east to become a Las Vegas dancer. Nomi winds up becoming friends with Molly (Gina Ravera), who gets Nomi a job at a strip club. Through a series of coincidences and encounters, Nomi attracts Cristal (Gina Gershon), the lead dancer at a topless show at the Stardust, and Zack (Kyle MacLachlan), Cristal's boyfriend and the entertainment director for the Stardust. After Nomi gives Zack a lapdance while Cristal watches, Nomi starts moving up in the world of, um, high-class stripping and dancing. Poles are danced on, bitchiness and betrayal are everywhere, and a whole lotta skin is shown.

Showgirls is the product of writer Joe Esterhaus and director Paul Verhoven. These two worked very well together on Basic Instinct, where the lurid elements worked in the service of the dangerous criminal element. In Showgirls, though, behind the sleaze is nothing but more sleaze. The actresses may look good and dance well, Berkley is fully one-dimensional. As for Gina Gershon, if you want to see her doing actual good work in a sexy movie, see Bound instead of this.

If you're hoping for some prurient fun from watching Showgirls, look elsewhere. The dance routines are energetic and, er, revealing, but they're also way over the top. (The same is also true for the movie's most unintentionally comic moment, a sex romp that's both aquatic and epileptic.) A brutal scene near the end will obviate any superficial fun one might have found in the dancing and skin, while the movie's resolution contradicts everything that came before it.

Some of the most interesting aspects of Showgirls are what happened behind the scenes. While this film may sound like a direct-to-video sleazefest, it was actually intended as a summer blockbuster that would make NC-17 movies more widely acceptable. But a combination of box-office and critical failure kept this from happening. A later attempt to market this as a midnight movie, along the lines of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, also failed.

I suppose Showgirls does deliver what it promises -- a stripper movie with too much nudity to get an R rating -- but watching this movie was an exercise in pain from start to finish. One of my pragmatic philosophies is that there is more than enough t&a in the world that one doesn't need to sit through a bad movie just to see some. With that in mind, skip Showgirls.

Overall grade: F+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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