There have been plenty of movies about strippers/dancers (Burlesque, Flashdance, Striptease, Gypsy, and the notorious Showgirls), but this shows the more seedier side (and true story) of a bunch of strippers that decide to take things a bit too far and strip their patrons of their money! Yeah, this actually happened.
Based on a 2015 tell-all New York magazine article, we meet Dorothy (Constance Wu), who goes by her stage name of Destiny at a strip club in Manhattan. She hates her degrading job of lap dances, offering herself to obnoxious upper-class drunk men, and barely taking home any money. One night she’s captivated by the electric pole dance performance of Ramona Vega (Jennifer Lopez), who wows the crowd and makes serious cash for it. Like a pupil under a new master, Destiny asks her for advice and Ramona, seeing a kindred spirit in Destiny, welcomes her in like a long-lost sister. Pretty soon, the two are inseparable as Ramona shares all her secrets and tricks of the trade.
Under Ramona’s tutelage, Destiny is soon making big bucks and loving her time with her new BFF, but in 2008 a crisis hits–a financial one–and the guys (and money) stop flowing. With mounting bills and a new baby, Destiny is at her wits end, but help in on the way in the form of Ramona and a new scheme of hers. Instead of waiting for guys to show up at the club, Ramona and Destiny, along with two other friends, hook guys at nearby bars and lure them back to the clubs for expensive private lap dances, alcohol, stripping, and draining their credit cards.
Oh, and mixing a roofie-type cocktail to erase their mind (and wallet) doesn’t hurt either! For years, this Fearsome Foursome of Ramona, Destiny, Mercedes (Keke Palmer), and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) are living a wicked lifestyle of stealing money from Wall Street bankers, brokers, exec’s, and other super-rich clientele who never report the theft. BTW, we see this whole story being taped in an interview by a reporter (Julia Stiles) for a future New York magazine article. Anyway, in a story about greed and avarice, someone always wants WAY more than they already have and that’s what happens here.
Ramona, like Icarus, flies too close to the golden sun, and that’s when things start to fall apart for the group. Yes, at one point they were making $100K a weekend fleecing the upper 1% of their money, but it finally took a few guys to come forward to stop them. Renaissance woman Lorene Scafaria (playwright, actor, producer, singer) took on the duties of both screenwriter & director here and doesn’t disappoint, in this earnest adaptation of the magazine article. This being a “chick-flick” (yes, I said it), it could have gone the route of one of those dreadful Lifetime movies, or lurid and crazy-sleazy like Showgirls did, but it didn’t.
This movie, despite all the naked skin, has a heart and soul to it, showing a deep personal bond between women, and the ugly side of what it means to be a woman lowering herself to please raucous men just to eek out a living. Jennifer Lopez, whose film career has not been the best (Jersey Girl, Gigli) takes a nice turn here as the ex-stripper turned ruthless savvy business woman, but it’s the wonderful Constance Wu that really owns this movie as the naive schoolgirl who gets a hard lesson taught to her. Also notably is Lili Reinhart whose character has a penchant for vomiting under pressure.
Can a movie give you an STD? In a rare instance, a film was released that bombed BIG time at the box office, was torn to shreds by critics, reviled and laughed at by the movie-going public and then, remarkably, became a huge cult hit for being so horribly bad! Pffft! Go figure! Me? I agree! It terrifically awful!
Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley) is a tantrum-throwing young drifter (bi-polar??) who hitchhikes to Las Vegas hoping to make it as a showgirl. After being robbed by her driver, Nomi hooks up with Molly Abrams (Gina Rivera), a costume designer for a hugely popular Vegas stage show called Goddess at the Stardust Casino Hotel. Nomi then meets super-star diva Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon) and is rebuked because Cristal tells her that dancing for a topless bar is akin to prostitution. Upset, Molly takes Nomi dancing at The Crave Club where she meets James (Glenn Plummer), but more on him later…
Meanwhile, Cristal and her boy-toy Zack Carey (Kyle MacLachlan), visit that strip bar where Nomi works and Zack gets the (WOW!!) best lap dance he’s ever had from a very naked Nomi, humiliating Cristal and impressing a peeping-Tom James. But after James tries to get Nomi to dance for him, she gets that big break: an audition for the chorus line of Goddess. Even after sleazy show director Tony Moss (Alan Rachins) tries to humiliate Nomi, she gets the job. BUT! Cristal wants sweet revenge and tries to prostitute her out, to which Nomi counters by… pushing her down a flight a stairs!! Ouch!
NOW the star of the Vegas show and reveling in it, Nomi then snaps up Zack as her new boy-toy to further humiliate (there’s alot of that in this movie, huh?) an already broken Cristal. But just when you then think the movie is over, it still has a strange third act that involves a brutal rape, a rock star, and Nomi going on another revenge bender. This is one jarringly bad movie from start to finish and a career-killer for Berkley, who never recovered from the devastating trouncing she received at the hands of critics everywhere.
Written by Joe Eszterhas (Flashdance, Basic Instinct), who must’ve been on heavy medication, this trainwreck of a movie started with this laughable script and went downhill from there. The acting is like a bunch of high-schoolers making a YouTube video with Berkley at the center having two speeds: lovably anxious or way, WAY over-the-top over-acting while screaming and yelling at everyone; you can’t believe she’s that awful. Okay, she’s got a rockin’ hot body, but that doesn’t matter when you’re cringing at the dialogue and her delivery. Oh, and her “dancing”? It’s like watching someone being tazed… and enjoying it.
What was director Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, RoboCop) thinkin’ when he took this movie on? Did he really read this script and say, “Yeah, this is a sure-fire hit, alright!” I can’t help but wonder if Verhoeven had second or third thoughts while filming this movie and wanted out at some time. All I can say is, you REALLY have to watch this movie to see how bad it is. This ranks right up there with that long list of “movies that are SO bad they’re good”. Movies like Popeye, The Room, and Battlefield Earth which are bad, but this one is on a whole new level of ugh! Rent or stream it… if you dare!