There have been DVD commentaries in which participants differed over the way a film was shot, but Showgirls V.I.P. Edition may mark the first time a commentator has spent the entire length of a movie observing that it is jaw-droppingly bad. It helps that Showgirls deserves every brickbat tossed its way.
Director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas were fresh from making Basic Instinct when they decided their next project would have a big budget, would deal with Las Vegas strippers, would have enough full-frontal nudity to land an NC-17 rating (equivalent to the old X rating) and would, in Verhoeven's mind anyway, be his version of a classic MGM musical. Elizabeth Berkley, who played a good girl on the TV series Saved By the Bell, signed on as the scheming star. Gina Gershon plays the role of the queen of the showgirls whose throne Berkley usurps. And poor Kyle MacLachlan, tumbling from the heights of Blue Velvet and Agent Cooper on Twin Peaks, plays the hotel owner who starts out with Gershon and, a lap dance and a swimming-pool sex scene later, links up with Berkley.
Eszterhas, who pocketed $2-million for this trashy campfest of clichés, saddles the players with one howler after another. "Tony, she's all pelvic thrust. I mean, she prowls. She's got it." "I wonder how she got it." "Well, she certainly didn't learn it." "She learned it, all right, but they don't teach it in any class." At the other extreme, he and the director arrange for a brutal rape of the film's one truly decent character (along the lines of a similar assault in the 1995 film Leaving Las Vegas), a scene whose tone-altering ugliness derails the otherwise happily mean-spirited fun.
A Seattle fellow named David Schmader has for years staged showings of Showgirls while firing off snarky comments from the front of the theatre. Recognizing him as the appropriate expert to baste this turkey, MGM hired him to provide the DVD's running commentary. "More than any other bad movie or famously bad movie or perceived-as-bad movie," Schmader begins, " Showgirls triumphs in that every single person involved in the making of the film -- writers, actors, gaffers, every single one of them -- is making the worst possible decision at every possible time. And it's this incredible density of failure that makes Showgirls sublime." The one exception, he says, is Gershon, who "knows exactly what movie she's in." Perhaps that's why she's the only one allowed to keep her bikini bottom on.
In addition to the commentary, there is an optional pop-up trivia track, a brief visual commentary by a couple of professional strippers ("Ooh, do not lick the pole") and a short instructional film on providing a lap dance, just in case anyone persisted in mistaking this for Citizen Kane. The DVD comes in a large box with self-consciously tacky extras: a game of Pin the Pastie on the Showgirl, two shot glasses, a deck of cards and a few rules for drinking games to be played during the film. The MGM liability lawyers have clearly been at work. The rules specify non-alcoholic drinks and say that if by chance liquor is used, MGM does not condone binge drinking and "does not condone the drinking of alcohol beverages. . . . Don't ignore signs of alcoholism; seek help." Having fun yet?
If you need light relief, The Assassination Bureau (1969) is just the ticket. Starring Diana Rigg fresh from her role in The Avengers, this is a blackly comic romp in the style of The Wrong Box and The Great Race. The story, from an incomplete novel left by Jack ( Call of the Wild) London and finished by Robert Fish, imagines a clandestine organization of political assassins who accept commissions from the public. Rigg, trying to break into journalism, gives the bureau's head (a dashing Oliver Reed) an assignment he can't refuse -- to assassinate himself. He conveys the assignment to the bureau's other members, and the chase is on.
Too frivolous? Criterion offers two discs that are anything but. Yasujiro Ozu's 1951 drama Early Summer delicately explores the tensions between an unmarried Japanese woman (Setsuko Hara) in her late 20s and the parents who press her to marry their choice of suitor rather than hers. Marcel Carné's 1938 drama Port of Shadows ( Le Quai des brumes) follows army deserter Jean Gabin as he arrives in Le Havre, meets the lovely Michèle Morgan, antagonizes her sinister guardian Michel Simon and breathes in the oppressive atmosphere of a port city where every dream is stepped on and every ambition thwarted. The Nazis didn't like this one, and banned it when they occupied France.
The highly entertaining thriller The Bourne Identity is back on DVD two years after its first release, to coincide with the theatrical release of The Bourne Supremacy. Matt Damon is the assassin with amnesia and a desperate need to elude people who keep trying to kill him. The new disc omits the last one's audio commentary by director Doug Liman, but adds a fascinating discussion of the problems in releasing a thriller just after Sept. 11, 2001. On one hand, says screenwriter Tony Gilroy, "everyone pretty much accepted that explosions in movies were over, that there would probably never be another film that had an explosion in it." On the other, the pre-9/11 assumption that political assassination was automatically horrible was now being questioned, with people saying Washington should have killed Osama bin Laden when it had the chance. So the filmmakers shot a new beginning and a new ending to make the whole film appear as a pre-9/11 flashback. They didn't use them, but the scenes are among several new extras included here.
Agents of a different sort -- marionettes modelled in Plasticine -- are the stars in a box set of Thunderbirds Are Go (1966) and Thunderbird 6 (1968), two theatrical films based on the 1960s children's adventure show Thunderbirds created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. (If you're old enough, you'll remember the Andersons' previous marionette shows, Supercar, Fireball XL-5 and Stingray.) It is possible to admire the extraordinary skill that went into designing the large puppets and spacecraft while being a bit impatient with the characters' liabilities: They never walk anywhere and can't change expression without having new heads put on. Both discs offer audio commentaries by director David Lane and by producer Sylvia Anderson, who designed the costumes and voiced the posh Lady Penelope, the breakout character of the series. The box contains fridge magnets of the characters.
The comedy Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen is a good vehicle for the estimable Lindsay Lohan ( Freaky Friday), as a self-dramatizing teen whose daydreams are as real to her (and, through the magic of film, to the viewer) as the duller world she finds herself in. She even gets her own music video, for a song called That Girl.
Other new releases include The Human Stain, in which Anthony Hopkins conceals a secret that one wouldn't expect Anthony Hopkins to conceal while he dallies adulterously with Nicole Kidman; Starsky & Hutch, the parody-cum-action flick with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson assuming the roles filled in the 1970s TV series by Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul (also out on DVD); Stellaluna, an animated children's film about a family of birds being raised by a fruit bat; Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights, which has little to do with the first Dirty Dancing except the name and the prevalence of competitive dancing, this time to Latin music in 1950s Cuba; and Millennium, a six-disc set of the grim, disturbing television series created by Chris ( The X-Files) Carter, with Lance Henriksen as a retired FBI investigator whose psychic ability to see what murderers see as they commit their crimes makes him popular with the police. Don't expect a laugh track.