LAS VEGAS (AP) _ When a much-hyped movie about their profession opened here last week, half a dozen leggy showgirls flocked in to see how they were portrayed. They laughed hard _ but criticized harder.

``I am totally appalled and embarrassed,'' said Melissa Griffus, one of the city's leading showgirls who went to see the NC-17-rated movie ``Showgirls.''

``I hope to God people don't take the movie for the truth.''

``Our life is quite different from what was portrayed,'' said Lucy Boling, a showgirl in the Folies Bergere stage show. ``They gave our profession a Hollywood portrayal to make the movie salable.''

The focus of Griffus' and Boling's criticism is Nomi Malone, a fictional dancer in the movie, which opened Friday in theaters nationwide.

Malone, portrayed by actress Elizabeth Berkley, hitchhikes to Las Vegas, signs on as a stripper at the Cheetah lounge, an actual club, then wins a spot as a Las Vegas showgirl after lap dancing nude on a hotel entertainment director.

But real-life Las Vegas showgirls say the depiction of Malone's career is so unrealistic it's laughable.

``I've known a lot more girls who go from the production shows to stripping than the other way around, because they can make a lot more money stripping,'' said veteran showgirl Lora Chamberlin. Showgirls are paid around $600 a week while strippers can make as much as $3,000 a week, she said.

Besides, showgirls are more likely to have a background in formal dance training than stripping, those interviewed by The Associated Press said.

``You have to go through a pretty extensive audition, you have to choreograph some of your own routines, you train in dances like ballet, you can't just slither around a pole'' as nude strippers did in the movie, Griffus said.

Griffus, 24, began ballet lessons at age 3 and by 11 was doing professional theater in her hometown of Seattle. Boling, 31, studied ballet in her hometown of London. Chamberlin, 38, a showgirl in Las Vegas for nine years, trained in ballet as a young woman in New York, and later performed with the Frankfurt Ballet.

``We're not grinding in front of people's faces,'' Boling said. ``We're wearing costumes that make us feel very pretty so we don't feel we're on the same level as a stripper.''

Movie critics have not been any more generous in their appraisal of ``Showgirls.''

The New York Times review by Janet Maslin called it ``a bare-butted bore'' whose defecating chimps brought ``a rare moment of good taste.''

The Associated Press' Dolores Barclay wrote: ```Showgirls' is a ripoff. It is not a good musical. It is not a good drama. It is not good sex.''

The $40 million movie opened in second place at the box office over the weekend with $8.1 million in receipts. ``Seven'' was first with a take of $13.9 million.

Boling says the real lives of showgirls aren't nearly as spicy as director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas portrayed them.

``If people could really see how we are backstage, they couldn't make a movie about it,'' she said.

``It would be too boring.''