Sunday, February 28, 2016

Showgirls (1995), Showgirls 2: Penny's From Heaven (2013), and Spin-off Sequels

Every other week there is a movie being released that is a sequel to some other, potentially successful movie(s).  This weekend, Netflix released a sequel to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  Next weekend, we have London Has Fallen.  Sequels are a large part of movies.  They always have been (with serials) and they always will be.  That’s the nature of the business.  Give audiences what they already know and love.

There are a couple ways in which sequels are created.  The first is the straight forward continuation.  This is simple to understand.  The story follows the original movie and continues with the same characters.  Most sequels are this way.  Then there are anthologies.  There are new characters doing new things, but the theme is consistent.  Those aren’t the kind of sequels I want to discuss.  I want to take a look at the spin-off sequels that have become more popular lately.

A spin-off sequel is easy to understand once you are introduced to it.  It takes one or more of the side characters in a movie and gives them their own feature.  The world is expanded without tiring out what has already been done.  These types or sequels have been happening more frequently lately, though they are not the primary form of franchise building.

This week I watched Showgirls and its low-budget sequel Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven.  Showgirls was about a dancer/stripper named Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley) who hitchhiked to Las Vegas in an attempt to fulfill her dream of being a star.  Through her new friend and roommate Molly (Gina Ravera), she met the lead dancer of Goddess, Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon), and began making her way in the dance world.  Nobody was nice and things got seedy quick.

Showgirls was one of the biggest NC-17 movies ever.  It became notorious for having excessive nudity and sex.  But the movie didn’t do well in theatres.  It might be because of the rating or it might be because the movie is bad.  Either way, it bombed at the box office.  It gained legs on home video and soon became the cult classic that it is today.  People eat this movie up.  Not a whole lot of people, mind you, but there is a following.

In 2013, Rena Riffel wrote, directed, and starred in a sequel to Showgirls.  Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven followed Penny, a minor character that Rena Riffel played in the original.  Penny wanted to leave Las Vegas to follow her dancing dream.  She headed to Los Angeles to be on the television show Star Dancers.  Along the way, she experienced murder, sex, drugs, and all that other fun stuff you find in seedy underbellies of cities.  A few familiar faces also pop up during her travels.

Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven is a spin-off sequel of Showgirls.  The main characters of Showgirls (Nomi, Cristal, and Kyle MacLachlan’s Zack Carey) are not present.  The story, though similar, doesn’t feature the same locations.  There is a tiny bit of Las Vegas in there, but this story is about Los Angeles.  Most importantly, what makes this a spin-off rather than an anthology is the character of Penny being the focus.  She was featured in Showgirls.  She played one of Nomi’s coworkers at the Cheetah strip club.  Her character isn’t fleshed out much more than that until the sequel.

The main problem with the sequel is that the budget was far below that of its predecessor.  The first movie was able to have a quality cast and crew (even if the product wasn’t good, you could tell that talent was involved in making it).  The sequel didn’t have enough money for that.  The sound quality, the acting, the cinematography… All bad.  The first movie was watchable and at moments enjoyable.  The sequel was a two and a half hour slog through bad filmmaking.

Nothing about Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven being a bad sequel had to do with it being a spin-off.  Most of the problems could be attributed to the budget.  The spin-off aspect was actually the strongest part of the movie.  Being able to follow another character going through the same sort of experience that Nomi had in the original was an interesting enough concep.  The execution may have been poor, but the intention behind it was not.  I can appreciate that as much as I can dislike the movie.

There are other spin-off sequels that have fared better than the Showgirls one.  Two I’m going to mention off the top for the sake of mentioning them are Puss in Boots and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.  I haven’t seen either one, but I feel that if I’m going to delve a little bit into the spin-off sequel territory, I need to make note of these.  Puss in Boots is quite possibly the most well-known spin-off sequel of an animated movie.  It took the Antonio Banderas voiced character from the Shrek movies and gave him his own adventure.  Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps followed the Michael Douglas character Gordon Gekko (the antagonist of the original) once he got out of jail.  I don’t know too much about either movie.

The spin-off films I know a little more about are the Judd Apatow directed This is 40, and the Judd Apatow produced Get Him to the Greek.  Both are comedies that take side characters and put them into lead roles.  They work to different extents and go for different changes to their respective franchises.

The first of those two to be released was Get Him to the Greek.  It revolved around rock musician Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) and Aaron Green (Jonah Hill), the man tasked with getting Snow to his concert at The Greek.  It was mostly a road trip comedy as Aldous Snow did wacky rock and roll stuff while Aaron Green was the straight man.  It was more successful as a spin-off sequel than Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven.

Get Him to the Greek was a spin-off from the Judd Apatow produced comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  Aldous Snow was the new boyfriend of Sarah Marshall, the ex-girlfriend of the main character.  Every moment he was featured was a highlight.  Russell Brand was great as the musician, making himself a movie star in the process.  It was no wonder that he was tapped as the star of the sequel.

This is 40 was a 2012 movie directed by Judd Apatow and starring Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann.  It told the story of a couple living their lives at the age of 40.  Their relationship goes through some stressful hurdles with their kids, their jobs, and each other.  Perhaps not as successful as its predecessor, it still managed to find an audience of people who appreciated and enjoyed it.

The predecessor in question was Knocked Up.  (Sidenote: Knocked Up is my favourite Judd Apatow movie, though I haven’t seen Trainwreck)  Leslie Mann was the sister of Katherine Heigl, the female lead.  Paul Rudd was Leslie Mann’s husband, who quickly formed a friendship with Seth Rogen, the male lead.  Though Mann and Rudd weren’t the leads, they were still important.  The sequel shifted the focus to them and didn’t even feature Heigl or Rogen.  It changed the dynamic and made for an interesting follow-up to a solid comedy.

Spin-off sequels are able to expand the worlds in which movies take place.  The audience witnesses more of what goes on without following the same characters going through the same sort of things.  These sequels shift focus because everybody has a story going on, and the original only looked at one story.

Going back to the Showgirls movies, the first told the story of Nomi.  It followed her attempt at being a dancer the entire way through.  It began with her starting off her career and ended with her blowing her career to smithereens.  That story was over.  Sure, there was a proposed sequel where Nomi would try her hand at Hollywood, but as far as Showgirls goes, her story was complete.  In reality, how many big stories like that does a person have in their life?  Do people really have this big career story and then go off to have another one?  That’s not normal.

Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven shines a light on someone else’s story.  The movie could have been about Nomi’s further exploits.  But the first movie was meant to be grounded in some sort of reality where the whole Vegas entertainment industry was a seedy underground filled with despicable people.  Where would the realism be in having the main character be as successful again in another place?  That’s why you choose a side character and branch out their story.  Expand that character’s life.  Everyone has a story to tell.  Telling Penny’s story kept Nomi’s complete.

Spin-off sequels don’t happen as often as they probably should.  The movie industry is too invested in driving every good thing into the ground by repeating it until the money stops coming.  People liked The Hangover, so the sequel was the exact same thing.  Spin-offs prevent that kind of repetition by creating new scenarios and focusing on different characters.  With the abundance of repetitive sequels being released, it is always refreshing to get one that veers off in a new direction.  It is nice when they try something different.
And now for some notes to finish off this post:

  • Greg Travis was one of the many actors in Showgirls.  He was also in Showgirls: 2 Penny’s From Heaven.  Prior to this week, he was in Chicks Dig Gay Guys.
  • Another actor to hit three movies this week was Jacob Witkin.  He could previously be seen in Evil Bong and Evil Bong II: King Bong.
  • Glenn Plummer, Rena Riffel, and Dewey Weber were all in Showgirls and Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven.
  • Richard Aitchley was in Showgirls.  He also made an appearance in Ed.
  • You might not have noticed Neisha Folkes-LeMelle in either of her Sunday “Bad” Movies appearances.  She was in both Showgirls and Glitter.
  • Jack McGee has returned to the Sunday “Bad” Movies with Showgirls.  He was previously in New Year’s Eve.
  • Showgirls marked the second appearance of Laurie Kanyok.  She has already been featured in Winter’s Tale.
  • Money Train was a movie that featured Anthony Backman.  He was in Showgirls.
  • Now onto Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven, which featured Ted Alderman from The Summer of Massacre.
  • Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven had an actor named Blanca Blanco, who was in Bermuda Tentacles.
  • Lenora Claire made a second appearance in Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven after being featured in Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV.
  • Last but not least, Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven featured Elissa Dowling, who was also in Transmorphers.
  • What are your thoughts on spin-off sequels?  Have you seen any of the movies that I mentioned in this post?  There is a comments section below if you want to use it.
  • Are there any movies that you want me to watch for the Sunday “Bad” Movies?  You can use the comments or my Twitter timeline to let me know.
  • I have been using my snapchat account (jurassicgriffin) recently to put up clips of the many bad movies I watch.  Sometimes there’s other stuff, but it’s usually bad movie clips.  Add me if you want to see that stuff.
  • Next week’s movie is going to be a little movie called Robo Vampire.  I have no idea what to expect.  It was suggested by @DeusExCinema, and I put it into the schedule based on name alone.  I’ll see you next week with my thoughts.

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