The Revolted, Part 2: Showgirls (1995)

| May 13, 2019


Some things just don’t work out.  Sometimes the intention overrides the execution and what you come away with is a misstep that, if you’re lucky, you can easily get over.  When it comes to movies, sometimes the misfires come in gargantuan proportions.  Enter: The Revolted, a bi-weekly examination of big-budget, highly anticipated movies that, for whatever reason, went down in history and came right back up.  Are they worth the venom?  You decide.


Living in the Bible Belt of Alabama, it is unusual for me to observe that there is actually a porn shop not too far from my house.  I’ve been there once or twice – bachelor party gift shopping, you should know.  I feel uneasy just being there.  In searching for words to describe this little smut boutique, I fall hopelessly upon on the word “scummy.”  The place feels scummy and sweaty, like I should be wearing a hazmat suit and rubber gloves.  It could be several things.  Maybe its the jewel case displaying dildos like designer watches.  Perhaps it’s the stench of mahogany and polyurethane.  Perhaps its the pornographic movie poster that greets you when you walk in the door featuring a pair of pneumatic nubiles on a beach wearing flower lei’s, the title of which – I’m not kidding – is “Lily’s Late Night Lesbo Luau.”  This despite the fact that the image on the poster is shot in full daylight – – continuity was never pornography’s strong point.

I only bring this up to illustrate that this little house of hedonism gives me the same sleazy feeling that I had walking into Paul Verhoven’s infamous Showgirls, a movie so bad that there are moments when it actually forgets to be a movie.

Look, I like sexy women as much as the next guy but after this movie was jiggled in my face for two and a half hours, I didn’t want to see another naked body for about the next two years (Freud would have eaten me alive).

Not long after this movie came out, I was watching one of those “making of” specials where the film’s ‘screenwriter’ Joe Esterhauz said that the movie was a hard-boiled expose on the empowerment of women.  You should know that his work includes Basic Instinct, Flashdance, Jade and Sliver. I guess that Joe and I must have different ideas about female empowerment because his idea seems to be to portray women as hookers, strippers, killers and raging lesbian predators.  Anything outside those four categories and they’re fish food.  He apparently thinks that their best activities for empowerment are knives, lesbianism, sex for cash, violence and nasty sneers (Mr. Freud, could have written volumes about this man).

In Showgirls, the women could be any one of these things. Violence is so much an afterthought to their personalities that it comes out in their speech, their clothes, their stares, their dancing and even their collegian stuffed lips. It oozes from every pore and even comes out in a scene at a fast food restaurant when the heroine furiously squirts ketchup all over her french fries. For me that scene proved a commentary on the film because, well, you know how when you squeeze a plastic ketchup bottle it makes that loud flatulent noise? You get the idea.

I think Joe knows that he has a lousy script because he keeps throwing in deterrents so that we hopefully won’t realize that the script is featherweight. Deterrence like nudity for example which got the film an NC-17 but should have been an NC-95 so no one would have had to sit through it. The characters reside in Vegas but the movie might as well have been staged in a nudist colony. Nearly every scene is littered with wall to wall skin, whether the scene calls for it or not. They dance naked, they sleep naked, they eat naked, they talk while they’re naked. The movie is so jam packed with nakedness that the sexy parts are when the women put their clothes back on! Esterhauz turns out the be the only boob attached to this project that is not actually on screen.

The movie follows the destiny of a walking bag of hostility named Nomi Malone, played by Elizabeth Berkley whose acting comes in two flavors: Stare blankly and blink.  She has killer looks and the brain of an appliance bulb. She’s a leather-clad bad-chick from the wrong side of the tracks who hitches to Vegas to become a dancer. How are we to be sure that she’s bad? She wears leather, carries a switchblade and cakes on enough make-up to make Tammy Faye wince.

Perhaps, she figures, all that badness makes her a human shield against that cold and unfeeling landscape of bitter failure and resentment known as Las Vegas. When she gets there she finds that Vegas is, well, a cold and unfeeling landscape of bitter failure and resentment.

Everyone in the movie approaches Nomi like a lion smacking it’s chops. Everyone hates each other (which makes us hate them and therefore the movie) but Esterhauz explains that in this hellish world of hostility and sexual vengeance Nomi learns a lesson in morality (Really? I must have blinked).

Before the sun sets on her first day in Vegas, Nomi makes a new best friend, becomes her roommate and gets a job at a strip club – and she’s STILL ticked off!! The roommates situation is just an excuse for pseudo-semi-sorta-kinda halfway attempt at some lesbian shenanigans hinted at because Nomi and Molly sleep naked in the same bed. Read that again and keep in mind that they’ve only known each other for one day.

Nomi has dreams of getting a gig with a jiggle and light show called “Goddess” which we are told is the hottest show in town (maybe if it were the ONLY show in town). I can’t figure why she’s so eager to get a part in this thing. IT’S TERRIBLE!! It’s like a bizarre tribal dance in which the dancers contort in front of faux volcanoes and do spidery things with their fingers. It’s like a strange pseudo-seductive dance on Star Trek only the performers lack the decency to look humiliated.

The show, like the movie is dull, real dull. So dull that you begin looking in the backgrounds for other things to look at. The sets for the show and indeed the entire movie are a hammered collection of sharp, shiny things that glitter in the background and I guess are suppose to make things look sexy. At one point, I was so bored that I began staring at those sets and imaging how the pieces could be cut up and used for Junkyard Wars.  Maybe Habitat for Humanities.  I dunno.

Does the movie earn its place among The Revolted?

Yes.  But it also deserves a place among the horrendously fascinating.  This is a movie built around the male gaze and presented as if every male were a single-minded half-ape/half-testosterone creature with no concept of rational thought.  And women are damaged sexual beings with little choice but to give in to this.  This is a movie that sets the course of women backwards with a catapult.  It is terrible, but it is terrible in interesting and amazing ways, put forth by men who have the nerve to think they’re making a good movie.  Bless their hearts.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
Filed in: The Revolted