After an onslaught of prerelease hype promising the erotic experience of a lifetime, SHOWGIRLS revealed itself as a 131-minute dose of cinematic saltpeter. Director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas do their best (which isn't saying much) to exploit our lecherous fantasies about the women of Las Vegas, meanwhile hedging their political bets by moralizing over the deplorable exploitation of women in Las Vegas. The first teaming of Verhoeven and Eszterhas yielded 1992's BASIC INSTINCT — no masterpiece, to be sure, but a slick, well-crafted come-on that delivered in the end. Here the Beavis and Butthead of Beverly Hills contrived little more than a search-and-replace job on the script for FLASHDANCE — which, not coincidentally, was also penned by Eszterhas. SHOWGIRLS moves the action from a phony loft in 1982 Pittsburgh to a phony trailer park in 1995 Las Vegas, and Jennifer Beals as a girlie-show dancer aspiring to ballet is replaced by sitcom starlet Elizabeth Berkley as Nomi ("Know Me," get it?) Malone, a stripper who aspires to a somewhat better class of girlie show. Nomi's dubious role-model is Crystal Connors (Gina Gershon), star of a glitzy topless revue at the Stardust Hotel. The film briefly plays with setting up an ALL ABOUT EVE-style rivalry, but bad girl Crystal gets shoved aside in the last reel, and none too soon. Elsewhere, SHOWGIRLS simply fills in the FLASHDANCE blanks with a familiar roster of hack characters and stock situations. Kyle MacLachlan shows up in the banality-of-evil role (he's the wicked MBA who runs the hotel when he's not snorting coke and exploiting Crystal). All the black characters are relegated to functioning as oracular observers, ever poised to spout wisdom and lend a body a hand. The only noteworthy addition to the FLASHDANCE formula is flesh, to interest the five or six remaining citizens who've somehow managed to overlook the astonishing surfeit of breasts and buttocks that now virtually defines American pop culture. For everyone else, the NC-17 restrictive rating is unnecessary: SHOWGIRLS is a positively detumescent experience. Its production values may be higher than FLASHDANCE's, but why not? There's more scratch to sniff this time out. So there's more neon everywhere, a Vegas-style volcano that erupts at the same time as the codgers in the audience, and women with nine-inch nails and mouths like sirloin steaks. If only something would come out of them one tenth as good as when Bacall told Bogie, in a different context but one that applies here: "You know how to whistle, don't ya, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."