To be fair to Rena Riffel, the writer/director/producer and star of Showgirls 2: Penny's From Heaven, it's abundantly clear from the film's opening scenes that she's latched on to her status as a mid-90's cinematic one-hit wonder and decided to stretch her far longer than fifteen minutes of fame a bit longer.
While this may sound like I'm insulting Ms. Riffel, rest assured I'm not. While Paul Verhoeven tried in vain to take Showgirls seriously as he was pretty much destroying Elizabeth Berkley's career, Ms. Riffel seems to be well in touch with the inherent B-movie qualities of the original film and she's amped up those qualities in this even sillier, campier, naughtier and far more fun semi-sequel.
The truth is that Showgirls 2 is a sequel only in the sense that it carries with it the original's name while also bringing back to semi-glorious life Riffel's Penny. This time around, Penny is still a Las Vegas stripper but she longs for more and decides to aim much higher by becoming the star dancer on a television series. When she leaves her boyfriend (Glenn Plummer) and moves to Hollywood, however, she quickly finds out that the only city more wicked than Sin City may actually be L.A. as she is first robbed then hitches a ride with a real psycho. Somehow, she latches onto a suitcase full of money and ends up in a real Hollywood mansion but, of course, this won't all last and she'll end up working for someone she thinks is a great connection (Peter Stickles) who just so happens to be married to a Russian dancer (Shelley Michelle). The twists and turns her story takes aren't necessarily believable but, really, are you going to watch Showgirls 2 for its storyline?
If you loved everything that was bad about Showgirls, then you may actually find yourself having a blast with Showgirls 2, a film that runs nearly 2 1/2 hours and tosses in more wicked characters, crazy storylines, magical mayhem, and even moments of honest heart than you could possibly imagine. While Verhoeven tried to convince us to take this all seriously, Riffel weaves together Corman, Troma, Verhoeven and her own delightful touches and creates a film that you may very well say sucks but it's mighty doubtful you'll regret having spent the time watching it.
After sitting through a 2 1/2 hour film that could have easily been cut by an hour, there's still a part of me that's sitting here chuckling and remembering scene after scene from Showgirls 2. While I can't quite convince myself to offer the film a complete thumbs up, Showgirls 2: Penny's From Heaven may actually be one of the year's more entertaining two-star films and I'd dare say it actually does surpass Verhoeven's original despite being straddled, giggle, with a far lesser budget.
Riffel, while certainly serving up the exploitative T&A factor to a degree, actually does manage to serve up a storyline and a film that looks at the true hazards of life in Hollywood while never forgetting how truly campy this is all supposed to be.
Brilliant film? Not a chance.
Showgirls 2: Penny's From Heaven is inspired by the work of Verhoeven, Waters, Warhol and even Lynch (Riffel had a small role in Mulholland Drive), and massively to her credit Riffel has taken the best of those inspirations and managed to turn them into a film that makes you laugh with it rather than laugh at it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic