For tits sake

The biggest boobs in the campy fleshfest Showgirls are its writer and director

Connors is the film's most consistently enjoyable character, a Texas-born "entertainer" who usually ends her public appearances and private woes with the dismissive signature "thanks, darlin'." As played by Gershon, who resembles Raquel Welch from her sex-kitten heyday in Fantastic Voyage (1966), Cristal is a cocaine-sniffing hedonist who's been pampered by her manager boyfriend (Kyle McLachlan) and the adoration of Vegas audiences for so long she's become a smug, spoiled, ruthless dinosaur. She can barely keep her jealousy in check when Malone bursts onto the scene, alternately helping and hindering the impetuous girl on her journey toward Vegas superstardom. Gershon, an impressive slut goddess in henna hair and inch-long lashes, struts across the wide screen with a semi-comical flourish that suggests she's in the wrong theater--the auditions for To Wong Foo are down the hall, ma'am.

This is the point where Showgirls attempts to become an All About Eve for the strip scene, but since Eszterhas writes such boneheaded dialogue for his characters, you're left to judge the people on their craven ambitions and illegal acts, not on any kind of larger philosophical view.

Indeed, as any student of either Eszterhas or Verhoeven should have figured out by now, these filmmakers wallow in the worst instincts of human nature. Whatever pleasure can be derived from their films involves the appreciation of reverse morality plays--we learn lessons about how to treat others based upon an explicit depiction of one individual humiliating another.

The betrayals in Showgirls are constant, catty, and campy--from one professional seducing another and then denying that person what he or she most wanted, to the climactic push of a dancer down the stairs to her premature retirement--this saga harbors more desperate ambitions than Valley of the Dolls and a whole season of "Peyton Place" lumped together. And since Verhoeven has absolutely no sense of humor about what he records, the audience is left to find its own moments of comic relief.

The hysterical pitch at which most of the events are played only contributes to the sense that future audiences will revere this movie as a camp classic.

One of the biggest culprits in the film is its star, Elizabeth Berkley, who was poignantly profiled in this month's issue of Premiere (the same piece reprints the rumor that Berkley and Verhoeven had an affair during the production). Although the libertarian viewer applauds Berkley for the professionalism required to appear completely naked in so many sequences, her thespian skills are a completely different matter. She appears to have taken acting classes from Molly Ringwald, based on the number of times she delivers an emotional moment with her lips.

Made even more ample by the makeup artist, Berkley's lips are the barometer of Showgirls' mood. You can bet if audience members are supposed to be shocked, then a closeup of Berkley will follow, wetting her plump, perpetually painted mouth. Otherwise, she is constantly in a distracting huff, chewing gum and refusing the offers of malevolent suitors whose wicked requests she barely understands. It's a stretch for any actress, but you can't help but feel shortchanged by Nomi.

There are many reasons why Showgirls should have rewarded you for checking your brain at the door. Unfortunately, Eszterhas and Verhoeven seem less interested in portraying America's forbidden fantasies than indulging their own. The overt lesbian flirtation between Nomi and Cristal climaxes with a sloppy tongue kiss, filmed so close up we think we're watching a nature documentary on the social habits of snails. But it's reflected in a far more annoying way in the friendship between Nomi and Molly. As best girlfriends who share the same trailer, we can expect some measure of intimacy between them, but not the kittenish physical interplay that the filmmakers encourage. If these ladies were meant to be lovers, then let them be lovers. But as strictly platonic buddies who must weather the awful storm of their chosen professions, they indulge in a lot of suspicious pawing, petting, and on-the-lips kissing.

The film ends with a feminist declaration in the finest cockeyed tradition of Russ Meyer--after Molly is brutally (and gratuitously) gang-raped, Nomi seeks revenge against the culprit. Topless, her blond hair pulled into an "I Dream of Jeannie" ponytail, shiny black high-heeled boots pulled up to her thighs, Nomi kicks the shit out of her friend's attacker.

Would that everything which came before possessed as much tacky pluck. The most depressing thing about Showgirls is that its widely hyped sideshow attractions are the most low-rent kind of prurience available to ticketbuyers today. Certain powerful lawmakers are poised to pass legislation which would significantly affect the outcome of popular entertainment, all in the name of protecting society from its own worst impulses. All of these are on constant display in Showgirls, but there is no corresponding intelligence to transform them into epic struggles.

Right-wing media watchers will decry this movie as a moral disaster, but in reality it's something far more profound--a failure of the imagination.

Showgirls. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Elizabeth Berkley, Gina Gershon, Kyle McLachlan. Written by Joe Eszterhas. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Now showing.

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