In its journey from reviled groundbreaker (a studio release with an intentional NC-17 rating) to revered camp classic, Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls is yet to be considered, as no less than the great French director Jacques Rivette has called it, “one of the strongest recent American films.” (A state of affairs not likely to be helped by its inclusion in a festival called “101 Movies Gay Men Should See.”) Verhoeven and subtlety have always been strangers, and that works to this film’s advantage. Despite all evidence to the contrary — the lack of sensuality in American movies, the sentimentality and moralizing — we still hear the old canard that American audiences get turned on by sex and sleaze. The daring of Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas is that they treat that claim as if it were true. And in this quasi-porno All About Eve, they put in what all the other show-biz “exposés” have always left out. Watching it is like seeing all those claims that used to be trumpeted in movie trailers (“The passion!” “The greed!” “The naked, grasping ambition!!!!”) and were always discreetly avoided. The mark of the movie’s low-down integrity is that for all its scabrousness, it’s never superior to what it’s showing us. Verhoeven and Eszterhas dig the glitter and the sleaze, and they put us squarely on the side of dancer-in-training Nomi (Elizabeth Berkley). No Hays Code–style comeuppance for this nudie cutie (in fact, the last shot suggests she’s headed for a place where her killer instincts will be even more at home). She comes, she plays, she wins. Would that it had been the same for Berkley, whose ridiculed performance is utterly fearless. She throws herself into the role like a tiger scenting meat ready for the kill. It’s a ruthless, reckless, extreme performance that makes much of what passes for courageous acting in the movies look hopelessly tame: After seeing her, you’ll never again confuse daring with watching Hope Davis’ nose run. (Sunset 5; Fri, Aug. 25, 11:55 p.m.)
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