“We’re not just Las Vegas dancers anymore! We’re trained commandos!” Hell Squad (1986) shows what can be done with a low budget and a little (very little) talent. An American diplomat’s son is kidnapped and, rather than call SEAL Team 6, a half-dozen Vegas showgirls are recruited for the rescue. After they’re rigged out in hot pants and headbands and given some awkward firearms training (boobs get in the way of an AK), it’s off to victory via some karate and a lot of jiggling. If Showgirls is too Chekovian for you, Hell Squad should hit that straight-to-video sweet spot.
Guns, Girls, and Gangsters (1959) stars bombshell Mamie Van Doren and badass Lee Van Cleef in a hard-boiled heist flick. Like Casino, it’s got a criminal conspiracy, a stunning blonde and some fine footage of the Fremont Street lights, but Guns, Girls and Gangsters was made 36 years earlier with about a hundredth of the budget. Still, it’s a solid vintage B-movie, with plenty of tough guys, deadpan voice-overs and a few kitschy gold lamé-clad musical numbers for Van Doren.
Seeking another rough-edged character study/doomed romance such as Leaving Las Vegas? Speedway Junky (1999) follows a teenage drifter with race car driver aspirations who finds himself broke and homeless in Vegas. He falls in with a pack of young hustlers and their life on the streets offers plenty of opportunities to admire the late-’90s Las Vegas landscape. Teen heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas is the ringleader of the rentboys, while Daryl Hannah plays their ersatz mother figure.