Before reviewing the documentary You Don't Nomi, I opted to first watch the film which inspired the documentary's exploration of it. Showgirls, in all its figurative and literal naked glory, is tacky, tawdry, sleazy and at times flat-out bonkers. My late friend Fidel Gomez, Jr. and I had hoped to see it together after having seen it separately but alas that was not to be. As a dramatic feature, Showgirls is hilarious. As an erotic film, Showgirls is devoid of eroticism. Despite its awfulness, I can see why so many enjoy its almost gleeful brazenness.
A drifter calling herself Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley) has arrived in Las Vegas with dreams of being a dancer despite knowing nobody and having no resources. She quickly finds both a best friend in Molly (Gena Ravera) and a job as a stripper at Cheetahs. Molly works as a costumer at the posh Stardust Hotel, where Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon) rules the Vegas Strip with her erotic stage show Goddess.
Nomi soon yearns to be in Goddess, but exactly in what capacity is unclear. Will it be as a mere chorus girl? Does our temptress have designs on Cristal's boyfriend, Stardust executive Zack Carey (Kyle MacLachlan)? Does Cristal have designs on Nomi? As Nomi and Cristal soon start a cold war, Nomi's ruthless nature leads her to shocking acts. With Nomi now as the new Goddess, she must make a final, fateful decision after Molly is brutally assaulted by Molly's idol.
So much of Showgirls is so wildly misguided that any sane person would look at it with at minimum bemusement, at most with almost uncontrollable howls of laughter at how serious they were trying to be and failing spectacularly at it. I confess that within six minutes into the film, I started laughing at Showgirls, which is a strange thing given that it was meant as a serious drama.
At least I figure the cast of Showgirls did not deliberately play things for laughs, but director Paul Verhoeven opted to tell his cast to be BIG, almost cartoonishly so. Of particular note is Berkley, whose performance had an almost unhinged and desperate quality to it. Everything Berkley as Nomi did was so BIG, so exaggerated and almost insane that you wonder if either Berkley or Nomi were in fact literally crazy. Every reaction Nomi had no matter what seemed to be so massively intense that you felt she was attempting 3-D acting to literally reach out and thrust herself onto audience members. Everything from her dancing to her face in any situation both erotic and vaguely innocent had this hardness, this fierceness that became hysterical in every meaning of the word.
Berkley was so overdramatic and histrionic in Showgirls, where every aspect of her performance both dramatic and dancing had some kind of crazed intensity. It is a mesmerizing performance, but that is not a compliment.
Kyle MacLachlan seemed at least willing to play all this nuttiness as if it were a legitimate drama, but I cannot imagine that the "lurid" pool sex scene gave him any hopes that this would elevate his career. Alan Rachins has extraordinary range, going from the uptight lawyer on L.A. Law to the hippie dad on Dharma & Greg with equal ease. As Goddess impresario Tony Moss though, he was another unintentionally hilarious figure. "I'm erect. Why aren't you erect?" he taunts Nomi when he examines her breasts. I figure the line was meant to be serious, but as written by Joe Eszterhas and delivered by Rachins, its end result is more laughter. Why the dancers would blanch in shock at Moss barking out "SHOW ME YOUR TITS!" when Goddess is a topless revue one can only guess at.
Eszterhas was reportedly paid over $3 million for writing Showgirls, and one wonders what the actors must have thought when they were asked to deliver such lines as "You f**k 'em without f**king them!" and having conversations about eating Doggie Chow. There are so many odd turns and strange subplots that drift in and out with no sense of logic. We get bits about James (Glenn Plummer), a choreographer with an erotic and dance fixation on Nomi that is totally irrelevant to Nomi's actual story. We also get another subplot involving rival Goddess dancers that might have been more interesting than Nomi's actual story.
Add to that the wildly contradictory nature of Showgirls. One of the Goddess dancers is meant to be shown sympathetically by showing she's a mother with two small children, but she later deliberately injures her rival, making the stab at sympathy irrational. However, the worst element is with Ravera's Molly, the only actually decent character and only genuinely good performance in the whole film. One can quibble with how quickly she came around to any of Nomi's idiotic to criminal acts, but Molly's brutal assault bordered on sadistic. It was an ugly thing to see, and seemed to be there because Showgirls simply ran out of whatever passed as plot and they needed a last-minute suggestion that our wicked Nomi had some semblance of morality.
On just about every level, Showgirls is horrible. Goddess is what a Las Vegas revue would look like if the Las Vegas Motel 6 ever had a floor show. It is beyond laughable that Cristal Connors would be any kind of draw, that Goddess would be such a major Vegas Strip show (or perhaps "strip" show) and especially that Paula Abdul or a pre-Super Bowl Janet Jackson would even consider being the star of Goddess. The stage show Goddess pretty much reflects Showgirls as a film: it shows a lot of skin but is incoherent, unerotic and laughably bad whenever it tries to be elegant or sophisticated.
Wildly misguided and misdirected (again in every sense of the word), Showgirls is not the drama it imagines itself to be. Despite the bad acting, oddball story, wild leaps of logic and general sleaziness, I cannot condemn the film completely. There is something almost mystifying about Showgirls, like a ranting lunatic racing nude across the freeway. You are horrified, appalled, even frightened but you can't completely look away.