In this episode Chris and Allen go back to Rydell High School and find that its more interesting this time around to spend time with the Pink Ladies than the T’ Birds.
Grease (1978) was the highest grossing film of the year and remains the highest grossing musical of all time at the US box office. Its sequel, Grease 2, opened fifth at the box office behind ET: the Extra Terrestrial, Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, Rocky III and Poltergeist. Taking a mere $15.2 million at the box office against an $11.2 million budget.
Set in 1961, two years after the original Grease. Frenchy (Didi Conn) is one of the very few familiar students returning to Rydell High, hoping to complete school to begin her own cosmetics company. Don’t pay her too much attention she’ll soon disappear for most of the movie, but only after she has introduced us to new exchange student Michael Carrington (Maxwell Caulfield). He happens to be Sandy’s (Olivia Newton-John) preppie English cousin so he gets shown the ropes by the beauty school drop-out Frenchy. He quickly falls for Stephanie Zanonie (Michelle Pfeiffer) the independently minded leader of the Pink Ladies.
Steph has tired of dating Johnny Nogarelli leader of the T’ Birds, the Pink Ladies male counterparts, and become frustrated with the “rules” both crews have to follow regarding school life and dating. Michael knows that she is only interested in a guy that can ride a motorcycle so he starts up a homework operation, selling assignments -“essay’s for cash” to the dimwit T Birds, to help raise the money he needs to buy a bike and learn to ride. Assuming the mantle of the Cool Rider, a mysterious biker who starts showing up around town and showing up the bumbling T Birds, Michael sets out to win Steph’s heart.
How About A Hamburger Later?
Critical response to Grease 2 focused heavily on how much of the plot seemed like a recycled hash of the original, Leonard Maltin rated it a BOMB blaming “pedestrian music, clumsy comedy and uncharismatic leads”. Grease 2 was nominated for Worst Picture at the Stinkers Bad Movie Awards. Lacking a fresh Idea and tackling a post Rock & Roll pre-Brit Invasion early 60’s doesn’t give the film anything to hang on to. Roger Ebert, in calling it one of the worst films of the year, said that it “went over the same ground as the original Grease, but at half speed” and in his review, for the Chicago Sun Times, asks for a Punk Grease. While there were plans afoot for a larger franchise exploring counter culture, wouldn’t an energetic take on the Punk scene have made an interesting set up rather than this? The first Grease had an element of danger in topics which ranged from class and gang culture to teen pregnancy and peer pressure. Danny and Kenickie looked like they could handle themselves in a rumble whether against the Scorpions, Cycle Lords or even the Sharks or the Jets. The T Birds this time around blanches at the slightest hint of trouble bumbling around trying to avoid the Cycle Lords. There just doesn’t seem to be any Grease in Grease 2.
Each iteration of Grease, since the original gritty stage show, seems to have lost a little of its edge. Going so far as to create a sanitized production specifically for high school performances which has no smoking, cursing, booze and cuts Rizzo’s pregnancy completely. Most of the songs were also edited for content. Grease 2 seems to have been produced from this softened perspective.
The original movie had the benefit of coming off of the back of the hugely successful stage musical. Having toured nationally and had runs on Broadway and in London the producers had several years to refine the show and work with the songs and cast. Some of the touring and Broadway cast members were signed over to appear in the movie version, already well acquainted with the show, the roles and other cast members. Pamela Birch, choreographer on Grease and director of Grease 2, claims the film began production without a completed script and that she was unsure of taking the directors reins as the sequel had no input from the show’s creators Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.
I Kiss Who I Want, When I Want:
Grease 2 holds a treasured cult status for its devotees. It’s not without its charms. Buzzfeed lists 26 reasons Grease 2 is better than Grease. For us at Diminishing Returns there is only one reason it should be thought of fondly. Michelle Pfeiffer in her first major film role as Steph the headstrong leader, of an admittedly more feisty gang, of Pink Ladies is the star turn here. Unhappy at the status quo “there’s got to be more to life than just making out” she dreams of breaking out of the rut that is high school life, refuses to be defined by a guy and is tired of only being seen as someones “chick”. With a androgynous name, masculine costuming (always in trousers), tough attitude and a job at the gas station she is the epitome of a self reliant young woman, nothing like Newton-John’s goody goody debutante. Like in Grease it’s the guy who has to go thorough change to win the girl, Steph never sells herself out like Sandy does at the finale of Grease instead she deals with it all on her own spunky terms. Michael on the other hand is nothing more than a handsome stuffed shirt. Travolta’s performance as Danny was energetic and interesting, Maxwell Caulfield is given short shrift here with nothing more to do than to gaze with unrequited desire at Steph until he is hidden behind his motorcycle goggles (where he is mostly swapped out for his stunt double for the tricky bits) then he gets to play it strong and silent. He’s the leading man in a musical and doesn’t even get to dance! It’s no real surprise that next up for Pfeiffer was a star making turn in Scarface (1983) against Al Pacino. Poor Max had been told with his James Dean matinee idol good looks he’d be the next Richard Gere or John Travolta instead his star fizzled in the wake of Grease 2. He, however, found additional cult cache as pompous has-been pop star Rex Manning in Empire Records (1995). Every movie is someones favorite, and Grease 2 is no exception even seen as the superior sequel no one will watch. In a Rolling Stone reader’s poll it came in at number 5 of the top 20 Most Disappointing Movie Sequels.
Back, Back To School:
The last key aspect to this sequel and its failure lie with the songs. Once the novelty of the Four Tops and their opening number, Back To School Again, has worn off the rest of the soundtrack unfolds with little or no connection to the plot. A musical where the music is secondary and does nothing to push the narrative is surely on the wrong track. Score Tonight is an ode to bowling. The inventive choreography and setting in this dance sequence are fun but, I mean bowling! Reproduction is so dumb it can barley even double its entendres! and is talk sung by Tab Hunter, an entertainer with a fascinating career and history, that could have been put to much better use here. You can watch the documentary Tab Hunter Confidential on Netflix. The choreography in both Grease movies, by Pamela Birch is wildly entertaining and well staged, and Grease 2 has some stand out sequences. In particular the Back to School opening, the air-raid shelter and bowling alley. If only the songs had been worked up enough to add to the story and be a match for the creative dance numbers. Much like the film the soundtrack album failed to replicate the incredible success of its predecessor, and although it was listed by Billboard as a “Top Album Pick” it stalled at #71 on the Billboard Hot 100 .
Still hungering for some more Grease? Matt Gourley recently had Jamie Donnelly and Barry Pearl, Jan and Dooley respectively, from the cast of Grease as guests on his I Was There Too podcast, with a second episode with a returning Jamie Donnelly, for those of you that need to get greasier.
All clips in the episode are used under Fair Use for the purposes of criticism and are not intended to diminish the original works or limit the ability of the copyright owners to market or sell their product.
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