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'Showgirls': Battle of the sequels

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The plotline was as flimsy as the costumes. The dialogue was beyond dreadful (”You are a whore, darlin’!”). Even the dancing was bad. So naturally, Showgirls is being revived with a sequel. In fact, a couple of them.

That’s right, there are now competing sequels in the works to a film almost everybody in the world considers one of the worst ever made. Neither project has a distributor yet, and neither will be an official follow-up because the rights to Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 All About Eve update, featuring backstabbing Las Vegas dancers, are scattered among numerous owners, which makes purchasing them all but impossible. But there’s no mistaking where these films about topless hoofers are finding their inspiration. One is called Showgirl — note the lawsuit-deflecting missing s in the title — and is written and directed by Rena Riffel, the actress who played Penny/Hope in Verhoeven’s original movie (you remember, the blonde with the bob cut who stripped at Cheetahs). The other, Showgirls Exposed, was shot in Europe, and it rearranges a few letters too. ”In Paul Verhoeven’s movie, the character Nomi spelled her name with an i at the end,” says German director Marc Vorlander. ”In my movie, Nomy has a y at the end.”

However you spell it, the question is the same: What would compel two people on different continents to make rival sequels to a film that won seven Golden Raspberries at the 1996 Razzies (from a record 13 nominations) and ended up grossing roughly half of its $35 million budget? Sure, in the years since its release Showgirls has acquired a so-bad-it’s-good cult following thanks to packed midnight screenings. But this was only after it nearly destroyed the reputation of its director (who’d previously made such fine fare as RoboCop and Total Recall), to say nothing of the damage it did to Elizabeth Berkley’s chaste Saved by the Bell image. Only Gina Gershon and Kyle MacLachlan emerged relatively unscathed. And also, it turns out, Rena Riffel. ”I’ve been to so many of the midnight showings,” says the breathy 41-year-old star of such B-minus movies as Caligula’s Spawn and Trasharella. ”The audience just loves this film. And I love Showgirls too. In my real life, I am that character. I am Penny Hope!”

Vorlander is just as passionate — in a more Germanic, serious sort of way — about the original movie. ”I think it is Verhoeven’s finest work,” says the director, 36. ”Because he was giving a slap in the face to the audience. He was deliberately shocking them. And that is what I want to do with my movie.” Last winter, Vorlander released the first online teaser for Showgirls Exposed: a naked girl slithering out of a bathtub and getting bonked on the head with a dumbbell. One appalled Web poster compared the footage to ”a Ukrainian porn film from 15 years ago.” Vorlander’s second teaser, released earlier this summer, rebranded the movie as a ”Music Photo Play” and introduced an icky new tagline: ”Disturbing. Provoking. Completely Shaved.” Bloggers took exception to this one as well: ”About as sexy as a Soviet prison in East Berlin,” wrote one. The director takes it all in stride. ”They criticized the original Showgirls, too,” he says stoically.

At one point a couple of years ago, after hearing about each other’s projects online, Vorlander and Riffel tried combining forces to make just one Showgirls sequel. Riffel was going to write, co-produce, and star in what was then titled Showgirls 2: The Story of Hope, with Vorlander directing. But Vorlander says he grew impatient waiting for Riffel to deliver a script, and felt that Riffel insulted him in an Internet interview, and next thing you know, the two were tearing at each other like Nomi and Cristal Connors backstage at the Stardust. Emotions are still running hot. ”Rena Riffel stabbed me in the back and spread all these lies!” Vorlander explodes when asked about his former collaborator. Riffel takes a deep breath: ”It just wasn’t going to happen,” she says after a chilly pause. ”Let’s just leave it at that.”

Vorlander went ahead and shot his movie in Germany last year, in English (mostly), with a Russian actress named Natascha Leybman in the Nomy role. But he denies Web reports that he spent $25 million on the film. ”It was much less than that,” he says of the budget, which was raised from private investors. He claims to be in negotiations with several distributors, and is holding out for control of the final edit. Riffel has only about 10 minutes of footage completed on her film, but plans to restart production in Los Angeles soon (she’s equally vague about the budget, saying only that it’ll be considerably less than $10 million). Her hopes aren’t as ambitious as Vorlander’s — she’d like to present Showgirl as a traveling midnight-movie road show — yet both are shockingly close to realizing the same insane dream. They are, in their own ways, just a few kick steps away from bringing Showgirls back to the screen.


The Contenders

Showgirl
Rena Riffel, the original Penny/Hope, slips back into — and out of — her Showgirls costume

VS

Showgirl Exposed
From Germany with love, a surrealistic ”Music Photo Play” about a dancer named Nomy

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