"She's got it."
"I wonder how she got it."
"Well, she certainly didn't learn it."
"She learned it all right, but they don't teach it in any class."
Some movies just never really find an audience. Some of those movies, however, can occasionally find a role as an "underground" hit. A somewhat nebulous term, these films are dark favorites, somewhat entertaining or even amusing, yet also clearly bad. Only in cinema can a bad movie actually be good because of it. Showgirls, for better or worse, is one of these movies.
Director Paul Verhoeven (Hollow Man, Basic Instinct, RoboCop) and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct, Flashdance, Jagged Edge) collaborated yet again on the 1995 film Showgirls, which got a lot of press because of the recently adopted NC-17 rating it was branded with. While this pairing of writer and director has produced films with impact and energy before, with Showgirls, the elements never really came together. The film has rapidly garnered quite a reputation, cloudy to say the least. Amid this, however, Showgirls has also achieved fairly solid cult status as a genre hit favored for the wealth of character actors that make appearances.
Verhoeven has some great films under his belt as a director. His distinctive style and visual flair launched Sharon Stone into superstardom in Basic Instinct, and several of his science fiction offerings are considered new classics by fans. So it was with no small amount of attention that Showgirls was released in 1995 in the midst of a blizzard of press over its reception of the newly issued NC-17 rating. The MPAA's indiscreet and ill advised attempt to "erase" the stigma of the X rating, NC-17 simply picked up all the previous feelings over X in the minds of consumers, and added a touch of controversy as well. Quite a start to a film's career, wouldn't you say?
Elizabeth Berkley (Saved By the Bell, Point Break, Any Given Sunday) plays impetuous Nomi Malone, a young girl who heads into Las Vegas' entertainment subculture seeking success and fame. Nomi is youthful, headstrong, and prone to rash, wild acts. She's also beautiful and capable of quite a bit if she doesn't let her lesser qualities get in her way. Like a rubber bounce ball being flung by a child against walls and floors, Nomi caroms about Vegas. With sexual energy oozing from her every curve, Nomi endures a full cycle of an episode of Behind the Music. There is the quiet yet troubled beginning, the early years of hardship, the rise to fame, the inevitable price of fame segment, and finally the crash before the "moving on" segment. Showgirls follows the classic storylines, punched up for a racy Vegas image. The script never really establishes a sense of direction, the scenes don't flow together smoothly. Countering this, however, is the casting, which keeps the film interesting, and offers several interesting characters to enjoy as Nomi tears in and out of their lives.
Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, The Trigger Effect) plays the Entertainment Director for the casino where much of Nomi's adventures revolve out of. A fan favorite for his other cult roles, MacLachlan receives many of the film's best lines, and delivers them with zeal and style. Gina Gershon (Bound, Cocktail, The Insider) is the "veteran showgirl" of the film; a sexual and showgirl predator, hungry, calculating, exotic, practical. Her character acts as first a foe, then as a bit of redemption, for Nomi. Robert Davi (Raw Deal, Die Hard, Licence to Kill) has a great turn as a strip club manager who has a few words with Nomi here and there. Alan Rachins (LA Law, Dharma & Greg, Leave it to Beaver) appears as the brutally blunt show director for the casino, a rather entertaining role with a lot of malicious toying involved. Most audience members will spot other memorable faces from other films, including a handful of Verhoeven regulars.
The video is 2.31:1 widescreen, not anamorphic. The print is extremely clean, and the transfer almost uniformly good. Colors are solid and bright, edges don't bleed or degrade, and the image is generally crisply natural. There are isolated instances of minor image problems, always brief, never dramatic, and mostly niggling little problems. They keep this transfer from being a great transfer, however; they reduce it to being mostly good with some oversights.
The audio is solid with Dolby Digital 5.1, and some good use is made of both surrounds and movement within the sound field. Dialogue is centered and usually properly mixed, there are a few isolated instances of lines being lost or a bit under toned. As the film is something of a musical, with repeated dance numbers throughout, how the tracks sound as opposed to dialogue is important. The disc delivers; numbers are musical and vibrant.
Aside from the film itself, the disc includes a short featurette that acts as a long trailer for the film. The theatrical trailer is also present.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Showgirls, unfortunately, is one of the highest profile examples of MGM's recent trend of "if it's not Bond, so what?" That may be a very blunt way to describe their current disc release policy, but it's also sadly accurate. Notably missing on Showgirls in particular is an anamorphic transfer, full Dolby 5.1 soundtracks for the foreign language tracks, English subtitles, and enough additional content to actually merit the use of the label "Special Edition."
Verhoeven has done several commentary tracks for other of his films on DVD, which would indicate he probably would be willing to discuss Showgirls for such a track. Cast interviews could be rounded up and assembled. Discussion segments with Verhoeven and Eszterhas could help shed light into some of the decisions made in the film. There are lots of ways additional content could have been generated for the disc to properly merit the use of "Special Edition." Bad enough MGM is currently releasing a crop of low-balled discs, worse that they're cheapening the definition of a Special Edition DVD in the process.
Showgirls, entirely a cult-classic "B" movie, has an audience. The film, bad though it certainly is in places, also has enough other elements to give it just enough pull to qualify as a good cult hit. There are some interesting performances buried in the flick, and some great lines. There's also quite a bit of skin, which can have its own appeal to some audience members. Fun for everyone.
Unfortunately, MGM is severely criticized for their extremely questionable disc strategies of late. They are urged to pledge to correct ill released discs in the future with fresh, deserving disc releases after their get their corporate policies settled. Showgirls should be on that list. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• 10 minute Featurette (Extended Trailer)
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