So, let’s get it out there straight away…I recently watched Grease 2. The notoriously criticized movie from 1982 (a sequel to the popular and successful 1978 musical) was on my radar really just because it was the first starring role for a young Michelle Pfeiffer. I had never seen it, but there it was, beckoning me on Netflix to dive into its silly plot and sillier characters, and somehow, I got drawn in. The question one wonders is whether it will really be as bad as all that? And the answer is yes. Yes it is.
Mostly, anyway. Because there are a few bright aspects to the project. But not, let me stress, anywhere near enough of them to make it into even a “not too bad” movie.
Let’s start with the plot. The film is about Michael (Maxwell Caufield), a bookish British exchange student who is an outsider at an American high school (his cousin is the outsider from the first movie, even though she was Australian), who falls for the local beauty, Stephanie.
This is problem because a) she doesn’t like him and b) even if she did, she belongs to a girl clique called Pink Ladies who aren’t allowed to date anyone but the T-Birds, a group of oversexed cool kids whose leader, Johnny, Stephanie recently dumped. Because Stephanie only wants to date some sort of motorcycle-riding fantasy guy, Michael reinvents himself as the masked (or goggled) Cool Rider, a marauding figure who blazes in on his bike, doing fancy tricks and defending everyone from some rival motorcycle bullies. This actually puts Grease 2 vaguely into superhero film territory.
Stephanie does her best Lois Lane impersonation and fails to recognize him. But because of her interest in the Cool Rider, Johnny and the T-Birds attack him and chase him to his apparent death!
Stephanie is heartbroken but in her misery ends up singing a sad song and winning a talent contest. After the Cool Rider turns up alive (without explanation) and saves a celebratory Luau from the rival gang, he reveals himself to Stephanie. She’s happy but it looks like Johnny is going to cause problems again…until he decides to give Michael a T-Bird jacket, welcoming him into their gang, thus making it permissible for Stephanie to date him. Johnny settles for the other girl he’s been stringing along and everyone winds up happy.
Except for the audience who has had to watch this, and me for actually typing it out, and all of you for taking the time to read it. It’s just so silly.
Some of the choreography–by the film’s director Patricia Birch–is pretty good, but the songs themselves (and there are a lot of them) are insipid. Some of the performances are decent, but the characters are shallow and hard to deal with.
And where we can all agree Grease was reactionary and clearly outdated in its values, it was also still arguably fun and lively. Grease 2, however, is reactionary and outdated and stupid. There’s no doubt that the villains of the story are Johnny and the T-Birds and their boorish ways, but the climax has Michael and Stephanie basically giving in to the whole system and agreeing with it. So, any underlying story that might have been developing about independence and individuality is quickly lost. I guess that was too much to hope for from Grease 2, but it did appear to be something that was developing so it was notable when it faded.
It is fun to see a young Michelle Pfeiffer, who stars as Stephanie. She demonstrates much of the charm and smarts that she came to be known for as an actress, even though some of her dancing is a bit nuts. Her career managed to recover from the critical disaster that this film was, while it seems that that of her co-star, Maxwell Caufield, never really did.
And all of the T-Birds, especially Adrian Zmed (best known as the second lead of T.J. Hooker!) as Johnny and Christopher McDonald as Goose bring a lot of energy to the screen. But the script is overall so tedious and juvenile that it doesn’t really help, and the movie doesn’t really have much to offer besides as a curiosity piece.
To finish on a positive note, there is one great line of dialogue. Michael, newly smitten with Stephanie, approaches her and asks her if she’s free after school that day.
“Yeah, I’m free every day, ” Stephanie replies. “It’s in the constitution.”
Unexpected and surprising wit!