The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Saturday, September 23, 1995           TAG: 9509230031
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   89 lines


``SHOWGIRLS,'' THE $40 million NC-17 nudie musical, is, when all is bared and seen, about as erotic as Aunt Fanny's last quilting party.

With its angry and hostile atmosphere, it reduces the sexual tease to the level of a tizzy fit.

A movie this bad should be more fun.

Nonetheless, ``Showgirls'' is going to make movie history this weekend. It forces America to come to grips with the NC-17 film rating (no one under 17 admitted).

This is the first NC-17 movie to be released on such a wide scale (1,300 theaters nationwide) and only the second NC-17 released by a major studio. (``Henry and June'' came out in 1990, but it was an art-house film that played in fewer than 400 theaters.) If ``Showgirls'' is successful, which seems questionable, it will prove that the movie industry's fears have been groundless. Until now, the threat that theater chains would not show NC-17 films and the reluctance of newspaper and TV to advertise them have kept the movie industry in check.

The laughably inept acting and ``dancing'' in ``Showgirls,'' coupled with a plot that is ultra-silly and overwrought, will keep this movie from doing for NC-17 what ``Midnight Cowboy'' did for X. ``Midnight Cowboy'' was the first X-rated film to win an Oscar as best film and is regarded today as a sensitive classic.

From the outset, Dutch director Paul Verhoeven was determined that his musical drama about Las Vegas showgirls would be rated NC-17. He was miffed that the studio forced him to cut ``Basic Instinct'' nine times to get the R rating. In that film, his main selling point was showing some of Sharon Stone's once-private parts.

``Showgirls'' starts with Nomi Malone hitchhiking to Las Vegas. Wearing tight jeans, she pulls a knife when the driver of the pickup truck suggests that he might get fresh.

She becomes a lap dancer, which is exactly what it sounds like, at a sleazy bar called the Cheetah Club. She aspires, though, to get into the big casino shows. After she gyrates in the right lap, she gets a job as a chorus girl and becomes involved in a staring match with the show's star, a Texas semi-amazon named Cristal Connors. Cristal is bisexual and clearly yearns for Nomi. She and Zack, the casino's handsome manager, compete for the showgirl.

The ``All About Eve'' plot - a young, conniving upstart attempts to undermine the aging veteran - has all kind of possibilities, but this script uses none of them. Joe Eszterhas, who says he did personal research for the lap dancing episodes he wrote, got paid $2 million for writing it. He named the lead character, Nomi, after his wife. (Could we place a bet on how long that marriage will last?) The dialogue is so bad that it must have been written with crayons.

A choreographer tells Nomi that ``you've got more individual talent when you dance than anyone I've ever seen.'' Even at that, he feels it necessary to smear ice cubes over her bare mammary glands as a part of his audition.

Elizabeth Berkley displays no acting talent and a minimum of dancing talent in the role of Nomi. She is best known for a long-running presence on the teen TV series ``Saved By the Bell.'' Here, she pouts and looks angry most of the time.

Kyle MacLachlan is the casino manager. He bares his butt for a swimming pool scene but, according to director Verhoeven, none of the actors he considered were willing to do frontal nudity. There was certainly not a similar inhibition for the actresses. Female nudity, both top and bottom, is plentiful but curiously unerotic and happenstance.

The real ``sex'' scenes are played as if sex were a martial art. Mac-Lachlan, who had it kinkier with ``Blue Velvet'' and ``Twin Peaks,'' has two encounters with Berkley. Both are pretty silly simulations. One is her lap dance outing. In it, she looks as if she has an extreme case of St. Vitus' Dance. The other is a swimming pool bit in which she apparently tries to churn up a tidal wave. She looks as if she's having some brand of epileptic fit.

You've got to give it to her, though. She works hard and she is markedly nubile.

Cristal is played by Gina Gershon, a Raquel Welch look-alike. She, alone, seems to know that this is all trash and almost winks at us to let us know.

Among its other injustices, ``Showgirls'' bashes Las Vegas with repetitive, and unjust, cheap shots. The better Vegas casino revues are by no means stripper shows. The film is accurate, though, in conveying just how sexless these shows are - all glitter and glitz, with topless showgirls who show no emotion.

The volcano dance scene in ``Showgirls,'' presented as a big production number, is too tacky to have been in any top Vegas feather show.

It would seem impossible to make a dull movie featuring this many nude bodies. Somehow, director Verhoeven has managed. MEMO: Mal's rating: half a star

by CNB