LOS ANGELES — It's OK, we're all friends here. This is a safe place; you don't have to be ashamed.
We all have movies we secretly adore, ones that are so bad they're good. These are movies that set out to be dramatic, thrilling or inspiring but just ended up feeling gratuitous, campy or crappy.
And so, with the release of the Christina Aguilera bump-and-grindfest Burlesque, here are the five most irresistible guilty-pleasure movies. You'll hate yourself for loving them:
• Showgirls (1995): Well, of course. We'd be remiss if we didn't start here. It would be an egregious error along the lines of mispronouncing Versace as Ver-SAYCE. Director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas' film is the gold (sequined) standard for shlock, complete with catfights, lesbian makeout sessions, sleazeballs and lots and lots of skin.
As aspiring Las Vegas showgirl Nomi Malone, Elizabeth Berkley insists she's not a whore, she's a dancer, so many times it could be a drinking game, and Gina Gershon is a fabulously over-the-top predatory villain. Showgirls is the dubious winner of eight Razzie Awards, including Worst Picture of the Decade. It would be nice to borrow Nomi's catch phrase – “It doesn't suck” — except it does.
• Xanadu (1980): I have such fond memories of this movie from childhood. I'd sing along with the songs on 8-track and I wanted to be Olivia Newton-John. Do you blame me? She was so pretty and her blonde, feathered hair always looked perfect and she could sing and roller skate at the same time. Only in retrospect did I realize that, huh, this movie wasn't particularly good.
Sadly, the story of a Greek muse who inspires an artist (Michael Beck) to follow his dreams by building a giant roller disco rink also happened to be Gene Kelly's last film.
But Xanadu has been reinvented in recent years as a Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical, which lovingly sends up the film's exuberant cheesiness. Plus, Magic and Suddenly are still beautiful songs. There's no shame in liking them.
• Grease 2 (1982): This is probably something I shouldn't admit but here goes: I know every word of dialogue and every lyric to every song in this movie. (It was on cable a lot that summer.) The world didn't need a sequel to Grease, of course. Everything seemed to wrap up satisfactorily there at the end. But, in part two, Sandy's British cousin, Michael (Maxwell Caulfield), transfers to Rydell High and is immediately ostracized because he's educated and has an accent.
Grease 2 teaches us to transform ourselves into something we're not to be accepted by the popular kids and to do it in song (which, come to think of it, Grease preached, as well). You cannot possibly turn away from a young, pre-Scarface, Michelle Pfeiffer as the leader of the Pink Ladies, singing about her fondness for biker bad boys and dancing awkwardly in Cool Rider.
•Point Break (1991): Too soon? Patrick Swayze only died a year ago but this is a prime example of his effortless masculinity on display. And nearly two decades before she'd win Academy Awards for best picture and best director for The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow was making gratuitous, visceral action films like this.
The fact that Keanu Reeves plays an undercover FBI agent named Johnny Utah pretty much tells you all you need to know. He falls in with a group of surfers suspected of robbing banks who don masks of U.S. presidents to pull off their heists; Swayze plays Bodhi, their leader. Lotta gorgeous people wearing very little clothing, interspersed with intense chase scenes and shouting matches. But the best line of all comes when Johnny lets Bodhi evade capture by diving into his watery death: “Vaya con Dios, brah.”
• Mommie Dearest (1981): The hair. The eyebrows. The tantrums. Faye Dunaway's larger-than-life portrayal of Joan Crawford is the stuff of kitschy legend. Nominated for nine Razzies, it won five, including Worst Picture and Worst Actress for Dunaway.
Based on the memoir of the same name by Crawford's daughter, Christina, Mommie Dearest depicts the screen legend as an abusive, mercurial egomaniac who adopted two kids to humanize her diva image — then made their lives hell.
As a young girl, Christina is forced to fix drinks for her various “uncles” in the evening and scrub the bathroom floor in the middle of the night. And we don't even have to mention what happens if wire hangers turn up in the closet. There's no point in taking any of this seriously. Just wallow in the camp.
Photo: Faye Dunaway