Monday, July 16, 2012


There are many bad movies, but not all bad movies are created equal. Just as a handful of lesbians in Roger Corman's "women in prison" movies fight their way to the top of the heap to become Top Bitch, so too do some bad movies become legendary in their awfulness. They are so particular in their badness that they achieve cult status. Consider 'The Room'. 'Plan Nine From Outer Space'. 'Ishtar'. 'Manos The Hands Of Fate'.

Now stop considering them; it can't be good for you.

As part of my lifelong Festival of Bad Cinema, I regard it as my duty to see these seminal atrocities by which all bad movies are judged. For this reason, I was perversely jubilant last weekend to finally see the famously dreadful 1995 sexploitation classic 'Showgirls'.

Although it's called Showgirls, the movie is really only about one singular showgirl. It's the story of Nomi Malone and her rise from wide-eyed, brain-dead drifter to wide-eyed, brain-dead star, stripping and shagging her way to the top of the Las Vegas entertainment industry, only to discover that it's sleazy and soul-destroying.

Now there's a surprise. Note to Nomi: anything that you have to strip and shag your way to the top of probably isn't a morally uplifting organisation.

'Showgirls' is basically a character piece, which, given the character, sort of explains why it's so terrible. Much like the monster from 'Forbidden Planet' - only with worse dialogue - Nomi Malone is a creature of pure id. When anything goes her way, she's as ecstatic as a kid at Christmas. When something doesn't go her way, no matter how inconsequential, she performs a move I like to call the Slap and Flounce:

1. Something doesn't go Nomi's way, usually due to her own stupidity and lack of impulse control.

2. Nomi tenses up.

3. Nomi slaps something, whether it be an ice bucket, a sheaf of papers or a glass of champagne, out of the hands of the person who has failed to live up to her sense of entitlement.

4. Nomi flounces off, either in a supercilious huff or a chaotic weeping run.

This literally happens five or six times in the film. You'd think that being knocked down by life would give her more tenacity and toughness, but apparently not. She behaves like a princess who has never been forced to do anything other than obey her own whims. Given that she's supposed to be an ex-coke-snorting hooker, this sense of privilege is a little disconcerting.

Like all creatures of pure id, the whole idea of consequences never seems to cross her empty mind. Take the example of licking a stripper pole:

Sure, we've all thought about it. But then we've contemplated all of the crotches of women named Brandii and D'Lishass that have been smeared up and down the pole, and we've thought better of it. We've realised that the only thing we should touch it with is a sterile swab, so that we can take it back to the lab, discover three new varieties of herpes and win the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

But not Nomi. She licks that sucker like it was coated with Midori. Which, given its location, it may well have been.

The funny thing is that if Nomi had been played by a competent actress, one who could actually communicate the sense of being a lost and damaged girl barely surviving in a harsh world, the movie would have merely been another mediocre, exploitative drama. But the fact that Elizabeth Berkeley cannot act takes 'Showgirls' into a transcendent world of awfulness.

Ooh, she's such an amazing dancer, the other characters coo. Oh, she's so sexy, they gush. Aw, she's the greatest friend a token black girl could ever want. All while she's just standing there, blonde and vacant, looking like a headlight-dazzled bunny about to be splattered by a semi. If the audience processes any impression at all, it's only that a world full of idiots has raised up a new queen.

Beyond the lack of acting ability, there's also the small issue of sex appeal. Elizabeth Berkley doesn't have any. By contrast, Ursula Andress was drenched in it. She knew how to be sexy without even taking her clothes off. Of course she still took her clothes off in every single film she made (she could have done 'Little Women' and still worked in a nude scene), but she didn't need to in order to be sexy. As proof, I am forced... forced... to show this image yet again:

Case closed. But Elizabeth Berkley takes her clothes off repeatedly and sexiness still eludes her. Take, for example, the most ridiculous of her many ridiculous sex scenes. No review of 'Showgirls' is complete without mention of Elizabeth's aquatic romp with Kyle MacLachlan, which truly deserves its reputation as the unsexiest sex scene ever committed to film. If I were running an abstinence-based sex education program in some American backwater, I can think of no better way to keep teens chaste than to show them this clip. "Yep, kids, that's what sex is like: having an epileptic fit and being bodyslammed by an invisible man while a dolphin pukes on you."

Sadly the internet does not appear to have the clip stored anywhere, but, given that it's not safe for work, home, church, indoors, outdoors, deep space or anywhere else, this isn't terribly surprising.

All in all, however, I have to say that I'm happy I finally got to see 'Showgirls'. As Quentin Tarantino said, it's "a full-on, gigantic, big-budget exploitation movie"!

But notice he didn't actually say "good".


Anonymous Troy G said...

Ah, my need for acerbic wit and bad cinema is sated.

2:09 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home