Monday, June 11, 2007

Academy of the Underrated: Grease 2

I never officially signed on to the Grease 2 Blog-A-Thon, but I put the film at the top of my queue anyway and gave it a watch over a couple of nights. In some ways I’m the ideal target audience, in that A) I like offbeat musicals and B) I hold no particular reverence for the original GREASE. It’s a good movie and a good play, mind you (friend of mine once played Jan), but it’s never resonated with me on any deep level. (Petty as it is, the fact that it’s a high school story about the popular kids may play a role. If Olivia Newton John is going steady with you, you’ve pretty much got no problems worth listening to.) If it were not completely in the shadow of a monolith of American pop culture- to the extent that British university students know the moves to “Grease Lightning”- GREASE 2 might actually have gotten some notice. Though not without its problems, the film has a certain sweetness and energy to it that makes it worth a couple of hours.

We start with a new school year for Rydell High School. Sandy and what’s’is’face have ridden off into the sunset, along with others, but Frenchy (Didi Conn) is back, and she’s brought a relative- Michael Carrington (Maxwell Caulfield), a British A-level transfer student. He finds himself instantly bewitched by the Pink Ladies’ new front girl, the sassy and sultry Stephanie Zinone (Michelle Pfeiffer). Trouble is, the Pink Ladies only go out with the T-Birds, and Steph has her heart set on a dream vision of a cool rider with a fast bike. Michael decides to take matters into his own hands; he writes papers for the T-Birds and uses the money they pay him to invest in a motorcycle. Learning to ride in secret, he shows up one night disguised in biker gear, outriding both the T-Birds and a rival motorcycle gang. Stephanie is wowed, but Michael is reluctant to expose himself, and her ex-boyfriend Johnny Nogerelli (Adrian Zmed) is just a little jealous. In the meantime there’s a talent show coming up, and a couple of the other Pink Ladies are having relationship troubles, and come to think of it, that’s about it.

The film zips along pretty quickly, to the extent that it can given that it’s a little under two hours and is not that complicated plot-wise (the talent show business seems to take up a large bulk of the running time.) I actually get the feeling that it may have been subjected to some heavy editing; there’s some business at the start involving a new teacher(Tab Hunter) who pretty much gets forgotten, and similarly, a friendship between Michael and Dolores Rebchuck (Pamela Segall), the young “mascot” for the Pink Ladies, appears in one scene and is ignored until the finale. The movie also seems to jump pretty quickly across the school year- a climactic Luau heralds the coming of summer, which is a bit weird since it comes the day after the talent show which the students have been apparently preparing for since the start of fall. (Then again, the numbers we see are pretty elaborate and probably took a lot of rehearsal time.) One scene I was actually able to verify as having been cut (thanks to the movie's artfully designed fansite) clarifies some questions about who’s where during the movie’s final act, which is important. The pacing issues do give the movie sort of a slight feel.

Weirdly enough, the songs for this musical appear to have been assembled from a veritable army of composers and lyricists; a similar patchwork approach was used for 1983’s THE RETURN OF CAPTAIN INVINCIBLE, but I'm not sure how it came about since it doesn’t strike me as a recipe for creating a memorable score. Despite this, the score is pretty coherent, and there are quite a few memorable numbers. “Cool Rider”, as performed by Pfeiffer, is a nice 80s version of a 60s girl group song, and Michael’s mysterious alter-ego is introduced with a pretty strong number as well. There’s a funny song about reproduction, one called “Score Tonight” taking place at a bowling alley, and the opening number features vocals by the Four Tops. One disappointment is a song called “Prowlin’”, in which the T-Birds sing about the joys of girl-cruising at the grocery store- it’s a great premise, but apparently they ran out of money before they could film an appropriate grocery-themed dance number and had to settle for a few silhouettes.

Despite a vague half-baked feeling I got from all this, it ultimately charmed me, and the main story was probably the reason. It helps that Caulfield and Pfeiffer actually have a bit of chemistry- a scene between the two of them in a diner plays particularly nicely. When all is said and done, you want to see them together, and you don’t feel like the film is going to try anything too unexpected on that front. There are a lot of neat faces in the supporting cast, including Connie Stevens as a sultry teacher and the Doublemint Twins as a pair of cheerleaders (confusingly billed as “Sorority Girls” in the credits.) Even though none of them get much to do (one failing the film definitely has in comparison to the original GREASE), it’s still nice having them around.

So I’m recommending this one. It’s light, sitcom-like and almost entirely inconsequential, but good-natured enough that it isn’t a big problem. And, as a sequel, it actually manages to feel distinct from the original; there are some obvious echoes, especially in the story, but it’s not just hitting all the same beats as sequels of the time so often did. It deserves a second look.

Written by Ken Finkleman
Directed by Patricia Birch

Grade: B-


Craig said...

You are correct, this film does deserve another look! Had it been named anything else, I am sure it would have done better but it is a fun, creative musical that should be enjoyed on its own merits.
Many of the Elvis musicals or Beach films of the 60's were not deep or thought provoking, yet people accepted them for what they were. It is unfortunate that audiences are so harsh with GREASE 2.

Ken Masterson said...

Very good review. I grew up with Grease 2 (alongside Tron), and am right now editing the innacurate but pretty well done transcript of Grease 2 (Transcribed by Drew from the Movie Script site). Well... the doc file is open, awaiting me adding pics. Anyway, I always wondered what Michael whispered into Dolores' ear at the finale, when she says "That's The breaks".
As for G2 and Tron, I had both on one cassette and watched Tron and Grease 2 back-to-back. These days I can't watch one without thinking about the other. For me, it's like Queen's We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions.