Hitch-hiking her way to Las Vegas, dancer Nomi Malone is an angry dancer with jaded stars in her eyes. Unable to accept compliments and liable to blow a fuse at any moment, it’s a wonder why anyone would gravitate to towards her, but still they do. First in line is costume designer Molly Abrams and later is frustrated choregrapher James Smith. Yet even with them offering her a place to stay or a dream to follow, Nomi is only after one thing: to become the lead dancer in the Stardust Casino’s Goddess revue show. However, that spot is already taken by the carnivorous Cristal Connors. Can Nomi make it to the top or will Cristal eat her up before she gets there? Well, let’s see… because in Showgirls, everything, and I mean everything, is dialled up to 11. 

... Showgirls's linear narrative best expresses itself in its dance sequences.

Clearly embracing the mantra that if it’s possible to pour sex into the most innocuous of frames, then director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas have set out to do it with Showgirls. Buoyed up by the box office receipts and the legs that were uncrossed by Basic Instinct, they clearly wanted to go one further with a story of a stripper making it big in Las Vegas. However, this time it needed to be even more extreme and from its very first moments, Nomi their lead character is frustrated, excited, vengeful and then frustrated again. That’s it. That’s the complete set of the emotional gears that Elizabeth Berkley gets given as Nomi and polarising effect is instantaneous: You either love it or hate it.

At the time critics hated Showgirls. Pushing directly down on America’s puritanical button that “sex is verboten but violence is ok”, it’s fair to say that this is a movie with a hard-on for outrage. Deliberately ricocheting off its supporting cast, Nomi’s one-dimensional ascent to success is defined by those around her. Whilst Gina Ravera’s Molly has the most Leaving Las Vegas subplot and Glenn Plummer’s James cashes in his choreography dreams for unplanned parenthood, that’s as real as things are allowed to get. Gina Gershon gets to be a wicked, sexually ambiguous, pantomime queen and Kyle MacLachlan is called upon to thrash around like a demented dolphin and that’s where the acting ends.

What is impressive though is the dancing. Whilst this movie is a long way from A Chorus Line and yet still to fused at the hip to Chicago’s murderous dreams of stardom, Showgirls‘s linear narrative best expresses itself in its dance sequences. Whereas in martial arts films, the fights gradually become almost balletic in their choreography, that murderous intent is truer here. With a sharp, slashing arm movements and scything leg spins, each of Nomi’s routines seems to be building towards a more lethal pay-off at the end. All of which sums this movie up as a naked firework show where the only accelerant is ambition. 


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