It’s not uncommon for movie studios to produce cheap straight-to-video “sequels” to well-known movies based solely on name recognition, often with virtually no connection to the originals. At first glance, you might expect Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven to be one of those movies, trading on the notoriety of Paul Verhoeven’s infamous 1995 flop, which has developed into a cult classic. But Showgirls 2 isn’t a cheap studio cash-in; it’s a bona fide labor of love for writer/director/producer/editor/star Rena Riffel, who played the small role of stripper Penny Slot in the original movie, and here brings Penny center stage as the main character in her own story.
Showgirls 2 is sort of a funhouse-mirror version of the original, with numerous lines repurposed and uttered by different characters, famous scenes re-created in new contexts, cameos from other Showgirls bit players, and a surreal, dreamlike quality that’s either an intentional artistic choice or an illustration of Riffel’s sheer ineptitude as a filmmaker. Most likely it’s a little bit of both, as Showgirls 2 is clearly a grand artistic statement with bargain-basement production values and a remarkable lack of talent onscreen. While the original Showgirls was bad in a big, overblown Hollywood way, a boondoggle of a would-be blockbuster, Showgirls 2 is bad in a much more personal, idiosyncratic way, more similar to movies like The Room or Birdemic than it is to Verhoeven’s bombastic failure.
Unfolding over a patience-trying 145 minutes (14 minutes longer than the original), Showgirls 2 follows Penny as she hitchhikes her way out of Las Vegas to L.A., to pursue her dream of appearing as the star of a dance show called, appropriately enough, Star Dancer, which looks like it was shot in a dingy basement tricked out with a stripper pole. The whole movie looks like it was shot in the home of someone’s eccentric relative, despite allegedly taking place in the entertainment capital of the world. Penny leaves Vegas at the urging of a Hollywood movie producer (which is exactly how he’s described on his business card), but somehow she ends up in a “gated community” called Seven Sisters, which is more like some sort of weird cult compound.
Describing the entire plot of Showgirls 2 would take far more room than is available on the internet. It drifts in and out of baffling subplots and heads in new directions regularly (within the movie’s last 15 minutes or so, Penny is arrested for a crime she didn’t commit, spends six months in jail and is exonerated thanks to the work of her former maid, who solves the case as part of her college thesis). Although the movie has plenty of nudity, it’s all deeply unsexy, and Riffel shoots some of the most awkward sex scenes in movie history. As an actress, she makes Elizabeth Berkley look like Meryl Streep, and she’s clearly the most accomplished performer in the movie.
As punishing and bizarre as Showgirls 2 is, it’s also not entirely fair to dismiss it as a waste of time. Riffel has at least some level of self-awareness, and some of the movie’s self-consciously nonsensical lines are hilarious. She’s cited John Waters, David Lynch (in whose Mulholland Drive she had another bit part, also referenced here), Andy Warhol, and of course Verhoeven himself as influences, and there’s a certain trash-auteur quality to her work. Not that it makes Showgirls 2 any easier to watch, but it does at times turn it from a painful disaster into a fascinating one.