The only way I can imagine enjoying “Grease 2” — short of medicating oneself into a passive stupor, I mean — is to look at it not as a sequel to “Grease” but as a screeching, hideous parody of it.
Consider this. The original film featured songs that were catchy and that matched the style of late-’50s rock ‘n’ roll. But the sequel features songs that sound like they were written in 1980 and that are aggressively un-catchy, as if designed to be completely forgotten within minutes of hearing them. And while “Grease” starred the already-familiar John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, “Grease 2” starred Michelle Pfeiffer, who was a nobody at the time, and Maxwell Caulfield, who was a nobody at the time and has successfully remained one to this day. “Grease 2” is the opposite of “Grease.” It’s the anti-“Grease.” It’s like Dawn dishwashing liquid.
The wretched sequel is set in 1961, two years after the first film’s characters hand-jived and fornicated their way through the halls of Rydell High School. Now Rydell is populated by a new squad of Pink Ladies, the faux-tough girls who dominate the school’s social network, and they are led by one Stephanie Zinone (Michelle Pfeiffer), who sometimes talks like she’s from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey and sometimes talks like Michelle Pfeiffer.
The Pink Ladies’ male counterparts, the T-Birds, are all-new, too, with a greasy thug named Johnny Nogerelli (Adrian Zmed) now commanding them. As lead T-Bird, Johnny is entitled to date (i.e., have sex with) the lead Pink Lady, but as the film opens Stephanie has dumped him, and he has moved on to Paulette (Lorna Luft), a Pink Lady who imitates Marilyn Monroe constantly and badly.
Into this dumb little world comes Michael (Maxwell Caulfield), a British lad spending his senior year in America. In a desperate effort to seem connected to the first “Grease,” the film declares that Michael is Sandy’s cousin. (Whatever, movie. Nobody cares.) Michael is bland and uninteresting — but wait, I already said he was British, didn’t I? With his mouth usually hanging open dumbly, he appears to be the prototype for Joey Lawrence. He befriends Frenchy (Didi Conn), the first film’s beauty-school dropout, who has returned to Rydell in order to take chemistry and become a better cosmetologist, or something. (Whatever; nobody; etc.)
Michael would love to go out with Stephanie, but of course Pink Ladies are only permitted to date T-Birds. This is due to the embarrassingly outdated laws, still on the books in many states in the 1960s, that prevented trampy bimbos and meathead greasers from reproducing outside their species. Stephanie expresses her motorcyclists-only policy in a song called “Cool Rider,” in which she sings, “If he’s cool enough, he can burn me through and through,” which sounds vaguely dirty without actually meaning anything.
Michael figures the obvious solution is to become a T-Bird, which necessitates buying a motorcycle. (Because for sure that’s the T-Birds’ only criterion for selecting new members: motorcycle ownership.) He earns enough money to buy a junker, then instantly becomes a whiz at repairing and riding it, as if he’d been doing both activities his entire life rather than stumbling into the vocation accidentally when he wanted to impress a girl.
In the meantime, life at Rydell proceeds as normal. To remind us that this is still a “Grease” movie, several familiar faces in addition to Frenchy are on hand, including Eve Arden as the principal, Dody Goodman as her imbecile assistant, Sid Caesar as the football coach, and Eddie Deezen as the nerdy Eugene. None of these characters serves any purpose in the story except for Eugene, who is here as a sobering reminder that Eugene is not funny and never was.
The film has many, many pointless scenes involving these ancillary characters, as well as some with the main cast. For example, there is a scene where everyone goes bowling. They even sing a song about it with these lyrics:
Let’s rock ‘n’ roll.
Eat your heart out, Stephen Sondheim!
At the bowling alley, Paulette says, “What’s the final score?,” and Johnny answers, “Final score happens later tonight!” Most of the T-Birds’ dialogue runs along those lines. Another musical number is set in the science classroom, where there is a fairly raunchy song about reproduction sung by the teacher, who is played by Tab Hunter, who it turns out cannot sing. Again double entendre carries the day, as when a male student declares, “I got your pistil right here!” You can see why that’s hilarious, because a “pistil” is part of a flower’s reproductive process, and it sounds like “pistol,” which is a type of gun, and a gun is on the list of objects that men regularly compare their penises to. (That list of objects is approximately 12,000,000 items long.)
But back to Michael. You were probably thinking that what the film needed was a weird, ill-fitting superhero subplot, and Michael is here to provide it. Once he secretly becomes an expert motorcyclist, he adopts a Batman-esque persona and performs feats of derring-do in front of the malt shop while wearing a helmet and goggles that obscure his identity. The T-Birds hate him because he steals their thunder, but Stephanie is smitten with the mystery man and spends several giddy hours with him, making out and talking and never realizing who he really is. Meanwhile, she spurns Michael’s advances at school. It’s totally a Lois/Clark/Superman situation, if Clark were Olivia Newton-John’s English cousin and Superman were a taciturn greaser.
The film’s climax takes place on the night of the big talent show, for which everyone has been preparing since the beginning of the school year. (No joke: Auditions were the first week of school, and the actual event is happening right before graduation.) Stephanie and the Pink Ladies are performing a terrible song that requires them to wear costumes representing the months of the year — I believe the number is a tribute to menstruation — but Stephanie is distracted by the fact that earlier in the evening, the T-Birds chased Mystery Motorcycle Guy off a cliff and he’s presumed dead. So while she’s supposed to be singing, she’s instead catatonic and having a fantasy musical number in her head. Somehow her group wins the talent show anyway, even though all she did was stand there and stare at the audience, so I’m thinking maybe the voting was fixed.
How bad is “Grease 2”? So bad that no one dared set another musical in a high school until “High School Musical,” 24 years later. And that film — well, that’s a column for another day.