Jingle sleaze — all the way

Rating: One Shower

Director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Esterhas merit special mention when talking about Hollywood sleaze, especially when they are a team. Collectively, they are responsible for several rip-offs, including American Gigolo, Hollow Man and Flash Dance. Their first teaming came on Basic Instinct, harnessing so much excessive sex and violence that a follow-up seemed unthinkable. Then came their crowning achievement, Showgirls. Shirking story and performance to show famous actresses dancing nude on big budget sets, Verhoeven and Esterhas nearly ended their careers after this albatross failed at the box office. Showgirls, however, is now a best-selling DVD.

Wild Things
Rating: Four Showers

Wild Things misleads to the extent that many viewers are not aware they have just seen a clever movie. Its first half is laid out like a catty Aaron Spelling melodrama complete with an upscale high school filled with impossibly good-looking students, teachers and parents — all of them are horny. Most of the film’s twists hinge on gratuitously explicit sex scenes. Each twist gets dirtier, more vicious and more complex than the last, to the point where the film’s lead character is shown pulling out one of her own teeth after a swig of rum.

Rating: Four Showers

Spun tries not to love itself too much. It tries to convey a responsible message affirming life over drugs. It really does. The problem is that any message this movie might have had is easily lost in a secret lack of regret for the autobiographical elements of its makers mixed with its desire to be an energetic, fun movie capturing the “burnout” experience. The outcome is a loss of any moral viewpoint until one’s lurid fascination with hard drugs may actually increase. The film is flawed and often falls flat. Its lack of direction and failed ambitions seem appropriate to the film’s subject, yet it remains highly watchable.

Rating: Two Showers

Rarely do films get to wallow in as much depravity as Freeway and still be found in Wal-Mart’s bargain bin. Produced in part by Oliver Stone, whose Natural Born Killers influences this film’s bravado, Freeway came as an antidote to Larry Clark’s Kids. Whereas Kids observed the lurid parts of teen culture in the mid ’90s, Freeway simply wants to be part of it. With dark humor that freely associates sexuality and ultra violence, the film encourages viewers to leer at its cast of mostly teenage girls, who more often than not play disturbed, drug addicted or physically deformed delinquents.

Bad Santa
Rating: Two Showers

If your sleaze must have a holiday theme, given the season, try Bad Santa. It is not a good movie or even a very entertaining one, but you will get to see a hung-over mall Santa barf before going out to hear kids’ Christmas lists. Generally, the sleaze in this film voids itself with the knowledge that it will all somehow be redeemed in the end. The film wants to offend audiences just enough to deliver on its premise, but not so much that it cannot draw you back to root for the bad Santa. In effect, Bad Santa washes its own mouth out with soap.

Fear City
Rating: Four Showers

A pre-metrosexual pimp; a gritty cop; an ex-boxer who must protect the stripper with whom he falls in love; All of these, not to mention a stalker who eliminates his victims with martial arts, are classic film noir elements thrown into Abel Ferrara’s 1983 film. The pimp runs tearfully to the hospital when one of his girls is taken out, and behaves generally like a doting big brother while Billie Dee Williams’ tough-talking cop embodies this movie’s main vision of low life. The fact that this movie was meant as mainstream escapism with its midlevel star cast lends even more to its misguided intentions.