Grease 2

Director: Patricia Birch
Screenplay: Ken Finkleman
Stars: Maxwell Caulfield (Michael Carrington), Michelle Pfeiffer (Stephanie Zinone), Lorna Luft (Paulette Rebchuck), Maureen Teefy (Sharon Cooper), Alison Price (Rhonda Ritter), Pamela Segall (Dolores Rebchuck), Adrian Zmed (Johnny Nogerelli), Peter Frechette (Louis DiMucci), Christopher McDonald (Goose McKenzie), Leif Green (Davey Jaworski), Didi Conn (Frenchy), Eve Arden (Principal McGee), Sid Caesar (Coach Calhoun), Dody Goodman (Blanche Hodel), Tab Hunter (Mr. Stuart), Dick Patterson (Mr. Spears), Connie Stevens (Miss Mason), Eddie Deezen (Eugene)
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1982
Country: U.S.
Grease 2 Blu-ray
I wanna cool rider

There was a time when I might have tried to mount a vigorous defense for Grease 2, arguing that it is not nearly as bad as it is often made out to be. Following the original Grease (1978), a Broadway hit and the most successful movie musical of all time, how could Grease 2 be anything but a disappointment? It lacked the star power of then-red-hot John Travolta, the chance to exploit a cultural moment in which the dour 1970s were giving way to the more upbeat 1980s, and the advantage of already popular musical numbers that played with the conventions of both ’50s rock’n’roll and show tunes. Hindsight shows that Grease 2 was bound to fail—and it did, both commercially and critically.

Watching it again after a break of many years (I had seen it countless times as a child when it was on heavy rotation on cable), I realize that, pound for pound, Grease 2 is a bad movie that really doesn’t deserve much of a defense. There are moments in it that are so cringeworthy, one might think they were the reason fast-forward buttons were included on VCRs. The plot itself, hatched by sequel-happy screenwriter Ken Finkleman (the same year he wrote and directed Airplane II: The Sequel), is little more than a gender-reversal revision of the first movie, with a straight-laced guy pining away for a bad girl instead of the other way around. Motorcycle fetish replaces car fetish, JFK is in the White House instead of Eisenhower, but so much is still the same, right down to the T-Birds’ leather jackets and the Pink Ladies’ appropriately colored Ford junker.

In this sense, Grease 2 is not so much a sequel as it is a rehash. The setting is again Rydell High, and the year is now 1961. Then-newcomer Maxwell Caulfield plays Michael Carrington, a hunk in geek’s clothing parading as a brainy British exchange student who happens to be the cousin of Sandy, Olivia Newton-John’s character from the first film. He immediately falls in love with Stephanie Zinone (Michelle Pfeiffer, in her first starring role), the leader of the Pink Ladies. Unfortunately for Michael, the Pink Ladies can only be the “chicks” of the T-Birds, led by Johnny Nogerelli (Adrian Zmed, who played the Danny role in Grease on-stage).

But, Michael’s real obstacle is Stephanie’s insistence that she can only fall for a “cool rider,” a mysterious bad boy who rides a mean motorcycle. So, what’s a nerd to do but write a lot of papers for cash, buy a motorcycle, rebuild it, teach himself to ride better than anyone else in town, don a helmet and goggles so no one can guess his identity, and then woo Stephanie with his mysterious charm and motor-cross skills? That is exactly what he does, and the ludicrousness of no one recognizing Michael behind a pair of red-tinted goggles is better left for other reviewers that truly hate the movie (although, to be fair, it is really no more absurd that no one recognizing that Clark Kent is Superman simply because he wears a pair of eyeglasses).

Granted, Grease 2 has its problems, many of which are apparent in just recounting the plot summary. Yet, it has moment of real energy and comic inspiration (particularly the creative use of sexual double-entendres), even if those are intermittent and often bookended by scenes that make you embarrassed to be watching. The movie starts out on a great note, opening with the always amusing and awkwardly well-intentioned Principal McGee (Eve Arden) and her dotty secretary Blanche (Dody Goodman) raising a new flag in front of the school only to be bowled over by the returning students and their high-spirited opening number “Back to School,” sung by the Four Tops.

The movie continues on well enough, introducing all the new characters and throwing in cultural references to Jackie Kennedy, American Bandstand, and nuclear fallout shelters, along with the inspired casting of former teen heartthrob Tab Hunter as the dorky substitute teacher Mr. Stewart (although, truth by told, John Waters made much better ironic use of Hunter the year before as Divine’s love interest in Polyester [1981]). There are a few giddy-fun musical numbers, including the bowling/sex-themed “Score Tonight” and the hilarious “Reproduction,” which sums up everything one needs to know about the connections between pollination and lovemaking. And, of course, there’s always “Do It for Our Country,” in which the horny T-Bird Louis Di Mucci (Peter Frechette) sets new standards in deception by convincing his girlfriend Sharon (Maureen Teefy) that the country is in the middle of a nuclear war so they might as well have sex.

But, all throughout, the movie trips over itself, especially when it tries to turn dramatic. This was something of a hiccup in the original film, as well, but nowhere does it approach the awfulness of the sentimental pap in Grease 2’s most maudlin musical numbers. These include “Charades,” Michael’s drippy ode to his own deception, and Stephanie’s bizarro fantasy ballad “(Love Will) Turn Back the Hands of Time,” in which she imagines herself in a smoky-white heaven with her possibly dead motorcycle-riding lover (it’s not surprising that the same composer, Louis St. Louis, penned both tunes). It’s enough to make anyone want to turn back the hands of the time and go see another movie.

Yet, for all its weaknesses (or perhaps because of them), Grease 2 goes down as a deeply enjoyable guilty pleasure, a movie that many people (myself included) relish with ebullient shame. The fact that, in 1998, the Yale Cabaret, a small theater run by students from the Yale School of Drama, produced a stage version of Grease 2 is a sign of either the impending apocalypse or that this goofy, misguided sequel might finally be getting some of the belated respect it (sort of) deserves.

Grease 2 Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
  • English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • German: Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • French: Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Italian: Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Japanese: Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Portuguese: Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • SubtitlesEnglish, English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Bulgarian, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Icelandic, Korean, Mandarin (Traditional), Norwegian, Romanian, Slovak, Swedish, Thai, Turkish
    DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateJune 7, 2022

    This new 40th anniversary steelbook edition of Grease 2 uses the same transfer that we saw on the 2018 Blu-ray release. It is a fine transfer—nothing outstanding, but then again, Grease 2 is not a particularly visually arresting film. The widescreen image has plenty of color and depth and is well rendered in 1080p, maintaining a decently filmlike presentation with some noticeable grain and texture. Colors are bright and pop nicely, particularly the satin pink of the Pink Ladies’ jackets and the red of Stephanie’s bowling shirt. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1-channel soundtrack is good, but not great. The music is nicely spaced out among the five speakers, but the overall mix seems somewhat center-heavy, with the song lyrics overwhelming the music at times. Sound effects have minimal directionality, and there isn’t too much on the low end, even when motorcycle engines are roaring. As for the supplements—well, yet again, Paramount has passed on a golden opportunity to provide some much needed historical, cultural, political, and artistic context with a robust set of supplements. When I reviewed the DVD of Grease 2 back in 2003, I noted the complete lack of special features and wondered if perhaps they were holding out for a Special Edition. Well, here we are 19 years and two Blu-ray releases later … and still nothing. No audio commentary from noted scholars of ’80s cheese. No retrospective featurettes pontificating about the film’s place in cinema history. No deleted scenes, alternate takes, alternate endings … nothing, nada, zilch. I guess they are waiting to license the title out the Criterion Collection for a full appreciation.

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