Grease 2 Is Your Weekend Cheesy Movie

by Erik Amaya

Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these misguided efforts for what they fail at achieving and what they manage to do right.
This week: Grease 2

The blockbuster era led to a lot of sequels. To be fair, sequels did exist prior to Star Wars. Just look at the James Bond series or Planet of the Apes. The B-movie circuit was built on film series to rival The Fast and The Furious in terms of longevity. In more prestige spheres, the original Father of the Bride was notable for its sequel, Father’s Little Dividend and just as the blockbuster era was beginning, Francis Ford Coppola legitimatized the notion of the sequel with The Godfather Part 2 and its Best Picture Oscar win in 1974. The Empire Strikes Back also proved sequels could be big winners at the box office and in the court of popular opinion.
So why not chase that paper with a musical sequel?
1978’s Grease was an outlier of sorts as the film musical was beginning a prolonged decline. It wasn’t dead yet, but a modern trade publication might have said the genre was in a fatigue state. Following on its stage success, Grease and its 50s-by-way-of-70s nostalgia appealed to the same sensibility that made American Graffiti and Happy Days hits. It also reinvigorated the form for a time; granted most of the movie musicals after Grease are strange curios and footnotes. And as the first film made plenty of money for Paramount Pictures, one of those footnotes is the cheestastic movie musical sequel Grease 2.
The plot sees Sandy’s cousin Michael Carrington (Maxwell Caulfield) come from the United Kingdom to Rydell High as an exchange student. His preppy, British-y manner immediately makes him a figure of mockery for the T-Birds; led by Adrian Zmed’s Johnny Nogerelli. Micheal also quickly notices Johnny’s ex-girlfriend, Stephanie, played by Michelle Pfeiffer in an early screen role. When Stephanie kisses Michael to prove she’s over Johnny, he asks her out. Unfortunately, Michael learns through the film’s most successful song that the only sort of man she’ll date is a cool rider.

So with the help of returning character Frenchy (Didi Conn), he becomes the Cool Rider: a man of mystery whose sudden appearance at the bowling alley defuses tensions between the T-Birds and a rival gang. While Stephanie becomes enamored with the Cool Rider — and becomes friendly with Michael as he helps her with her grades — Johnny and the others T-Birds hope to force him into racing off a dead man’s bluff. Meanwhile, one of the T-Birds fakes a nuclear crisis in attempt to get his girlfriend to sleep with him and one of the other Pink Lady/T-Bird couples have a relationship spat worth writing a song about.
Also, Stephanie and the other Pink Ladies take an interest in the talent show.
If they whole thing feels cynical and lazy, that is the film’s charm. Directed by the first film’s choreographer, Patricia Birch, Grease 2 couldn’t be more of a blatant cash-grab than if its subtitle was literally “The Blatant Cash-Grab.” It flips the Danny/Sandy dynamic, which has to be the easiest way to set up a sequel when your stars refuse to come back. But it also adds a Superman plot thread because that was also a proven formula by the time Grease 2 was in development. Even it’s tagline, “Grease Is Still The Word,” tells you where the studio’s collective mind was. At the time, 1982 audiences recoiled in horror from its obvious desecration of a beloved film classic and its attempt to re-energize a nostalgia wave long since ebbed. Its failure ruined Caulfield’s shot as a leading man, ended Birch’s feature film directing career and put the kibosh on Paramount’s nascent plan to produce two more Grease films to be set at Rydell during the late 1960s.
I almost wish they had been made so I could know how one makes a Grease movie long after the greasers grew up or got blown to bits in Vietnam.
But looking at it now, the attempt to recapture the magic of the first film in the easiest and laziest way possible offers a handful of good songs and several baffling first draft numbers like “Who’s That Guy?” They manage to be entertaining despite being, on their face, awful songs staged terribly for film. Pfeiffer, clearly in over her head, delivers an admirable enough performance. Caulfield also does his best despite being given a character — and songs — that leave him devoid of any appeal whatsoever. That disconnect between performer and story is also part of the thrill of this movie; as is any time it cuts to Eve Arden, returning as Principal McGee, to remind you of something you liked in the first film.
Then there’s also the sacrilicious element to watching Grease 2. Even if you’re not a great fan of the first film — like me — there is a glee to be derived from consuming its obviously lesser follow-up and seeing all the short-cuts, rewarmed leftovers and pandering on display. This phenomenon occurs in another ill-advised Paramount Pictures sequel we’ll talk about another day: Staying Alive. Here, though, it has the added incentive of a musical accompaniment trying to recapture the spirit of, say, “Summer Nights” or “You’re the One That I Want” without the participation of the original songwriters. It’s an insane attempt at simulacrum which leads to the film’s attempt to recreate the climatic graduation fair as the “Rock-A-Hula Luau.” Y’know, since the first film ended with an outlandishly themed and hideously expense graduation party, the sequel should try to one-up it. Unfortunately, the result looks cut-rate despite an increased budget. The end result is a cheesy movie sequel made with all the resources and support a major Hollywood studio could afford. Certainly, a rare and special case.
Well, until Paramount released Staying Alive one year later.
Grease 2 is available for streaming on Hulu. It’s also still available on DVD from reputable online purveyors of physical media.

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