The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Showgirls (1995)

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Whenever I used to tell people I had a blog that reviewed Direct to Video movies, they'd always ask if I did something like Showgirls, and I'd have to remind them that that was in the theater, and I only do Direct to Video films. I had a goal in mind when I started this: to spotlight those films that aren't the big budget theatrical release, and even if they were often bad and funny, to at least give them their due. Looking back on it now, saying "I only do Direct to Video movies" sounds like the band in Step Brothers that only does late 80s Joel, but I never really meant to come off like that. Now, with the inclusion of the wild card post, which usually focuses on box office bombs, I can have the best of both worlds, being able to spotlight those DTV films I want, while at the same time telling people, when they ask, "yes, I did review Showgirls."

Showgirls is an NC-17 take on All About Eve with double the raunchiness and none of the charm. Elizabeth Berkley plays Nomi (not named after the great New Wave singer), a girl with a sketchy past who has moved a round a lot and comes to Las Vegas to dance. Turns out she's more of a stripper than a dancer, but she's got an "It" factor that only the people in the film are able to see. Anyway, she gets her big break with Gena Gershon's topless review at the Stardust, and things take off from there.

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This is often referred to as one of the most fun bad movies ever. I've always agreed except for one major issue: the gang rape scene at the end. Rapes are not fun, and they only work in movies like Irreversible that aren't fun. Now, we could make the point that Showgirls wasn't intended to be fun. Fair enough, but the gang rape still seemed to come out of nowhere and threw off the film's equilibrium-- if it had any anyway. It felt to me like the person at the party who tells the odd or traumatic personal story while everyone is having a good time. There's that awkward "...Oh-kay...", then people start drinking out of their empty beer bottles just to be doing something, then realize that their empty beer bottles gives them a fortuitous reason for immediate escape, and the group scatters. Rape is a very serious thing, perhaps more serious than murder when done in a movie, and as such, film makers should think long and hard about including it in their films.

Back in 2001, when I was out in San Diego, my buddy and I spent the day in LA, during which we got free tickets at Mann's to be in the audience for The Craig Kilborn Show. Among the guests was Elizabeth Berkley, promoting her role in the Woody Allen film The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. Not exactly star struck, right? Anyway, in Showgirls, probably what she's best known for other than Saved by the Bell, she was out of her league in the lead role. Robert Davi, Kyle McLachlan, and Gena Gershon were all great in supporting roles, but it was like an NBA team without a superstar-- you can't win a championship with only role players. The problem was, I got the sense that Berkley felt like her being cast as the lead was an affirmation of her talents, so in every scene when she over acted or came off unnatural, she felt like she was playing it right, which just added to the silliness.

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This was no more evident than when she acted opposite Gena Gershon. It was like watching a rookie getting taken to school in a bad sports movie, the old "welcome to the big leagues kid", only in Showgirls as we were watching the veteran beat the rookie, the film was trying to convince us that the rookie more than held her own. What made this so much fun was the performances by people like Gershon, Davi, and McLachlan; had we just had a more fun actress playing the lead it would've been great. That and of course, cut out the gang rape.

It's hard to tell if this should be NC-17 more for the nudity or the language. I found myself laughing out loud numerous times during my recent rewatch for the review at things like Robert Davi, with zero irony, telling Berkley "How's it feel to not have them cum on your face?" Wow. How does it feel, by the way? That's pretty much the level of discourse for this winner, which for me, was actually what made it fun. I have a friend who's just south of 23, and she had never heard of this movie, which is crazy to me. Part of it probably comes from her growing up in rural Maine, but it felt like to me this movie was a big deal and then a bigger bust when it came out in 1995. I think a similar case for me (with much less controversy even) when I was her age in 1995 would've been The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, and I remembered that years later. I don't know, does it make sense that a 22/23-year-old wouldn't have heard of this? It just seems like something generating that much heat would make it's way to 8-year-old ears, or that it's such an icon that would be understood by people who were too young to remember the events as they unfolded.

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Is it wrong that the scene where Berkley and McLachlan have sex in the pool brought to mind Jacques Tati's Oscar winning Mon Oncle? It was that dolphin fountain, it reminded me of the gaudy fish fountain the Arpels had on their front lawn. I mean, if it's on purpose, it would've been a stroke of brilliance on director Paul Verhoeven's part as a way to metaphorically explain the Las Vegas world he was depicting. At this moment I just realized that we're at the seventh paragraph and I've only just gotten around to mentioning the genius behind RoboCop, Starship Troopers, and Total Recall. In that context, the Mon Oncle reference makes perfect sense, because each of those other three, especially the first one I mentioned, really took Tati's concept with Mon Oncle and applied to modern Americana. You could almost say that RoboCop and Showgirls are two sides of the same coin, one dealing with violence in pop culture, the other sex. The biggest difference, of course, is Weller is a better actor than Berkley, and that's why one worked so well and the other didn't.

I do like that this new wild card/box office bust format allows me to tackle gems like this one. Empire.com listed this as 49 in their top 50 worst films of all time, which I think is a little lenient. I'd put it closer to number 1 (that is, of course, if you discount all the Saws, Hostels, and Turistas). I definitely think it was worse than Blade: Trinity, for instance. Regardless, for anyone older than 25, this is what we think of when someone says bad movie, and it belongs here at the DTVC. Without the gang rape, it might be one of the best bad movies of all time, but with it, it's just not right, and as such, maybe not the best film for a fun bad movie night-- though you could always skip that part.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114436/

2 comments:

  1. Ive never seen this movie, probably because when it came out i was such a devout christian! Ha, now, I think its time to finally check this one out. I love Verhoven movies, always over the top in whatever they are about. Always loud and in your face.

    Ive meaning to see it for the longest time, just to see if its as bad as they say it is.

    Hey, isnt Maine that island that a lot of Stephen King books take place in? Like that movie, The Storm of the Century?

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  2. Yeah, Steven King is from Bangor, ME, which is the second largest city (after Portland), only about 35,000 people, but the biggest town for a lot of people way up in the northern part of the state. I went to UMaine, about 15 minutes north of Bangor, and three hours north of where I grew up, which was on the southern tip of the state in Kittery, about an hour north of Boston Mass. As such, I grew up in the middle of two worlds-- big city Boston and small town Maine-- while Steven King grew up entirely as a product of small town Maine.

    Because of this, Steven King does base a lot of his stories in Maine, and he's great at capturing how creepy and remote a lot of it is. One cool thing he did was donate to UMaine all of his books translated into various foreign languages for us to have in the foreign language department. I had to translate the first few pages of Pet Cemetery for my German class.

    All right, enough about Maine, Showgirls is a must see. Watching it again made me realize that very much. Again, the gang rape makes it less fun than it could've been, but that happens at the very end, so you still have almost two hours of fun before it.

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