There was this golden moment in Hollywood in the mid 90’s, where Sharon Stone had just flashed her genitals across the screen, and the audience yearned for the kind of sleaze and titillation usually reserved for exploitation cinema. The budgets grew and celebrity screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct) started pocketing two million per script for turkey’s like Jade and of course this. Teaming up with Basic Instinct director Paul Verhoven they were the dynamic duo of questionable morality, keen to push the boundaries and give the audience what they wanted. So the money flowed, the cocaine and the blow-jobs followed, but the audience didn’t respond to this flaccid flesh fest. In fact they turned on it venomously.
So where do you lay the blame? Eszterhas suggests the casting of Elizabeth Berkley as Nomi (the name of his real life partner – bet he regrets it now) was the problem, referring to her in his memoir as ‘a blow up fuck doll.’ Yet there are many problems in this film, and to be fair it’s these issues that make this film worth a second look. It’s really peculiar, it’ sounds surefire, with all the ingredients you’d want, sex, power, greed, ambition, but when they attempted to light the match it’s like all the fuel had been left out in the rain, and all we get is smoke. There’s no spark. No fire.
It’s the story of sexy hard-bodied Nomi, who hitchhikes to Vegas to pursue her dream as a dancer, beginning in a seedy strip club, before working her way up to a glamorous topless revue in a casino, discovering that the sleaze and corruption follow her no matter how high she rises. Certain interactions, like Nomi’s with principal dancer Cristal (Gina Gershon) are bizarre attempts at psycho sexual tension that border on delusional, however Kyle MacLachlan couldn’t be further from Agent Cooper and is clearly having a ball. Berkley’s though lets her dancing do her acting, strutting and prancing, eating up the scenery, nude and proud. Like Noni this is her big break and she thinks she’s in Citizen Kane – which only adds to the enjoyment.
This film is an essential mix of so bad it’s good and so bad it’s bad, alongside so nonsensical it’s stupid (such as the monkeys let loose backstage). It feels like a fairy-tale version of Vegas sleaze, a fantasy that doesn’t ring true. It reeks of excess and that’s part of its charm, which is why even when it’s terrible it’s still compelling. Now finally released on blue ray the print is pristine so you can be confused in high definition as to why this wall to wall flesh fails to titillate.
Bob Baker Fish