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Riffing on Retro: Grease 2

Grease 2. I feel like I’m about to do something awful to you. Who talks about this film, anyway? Anybody?

As a almost-sequel to the much beloved 1978 film, Grease, Grease 2 has about as much to do with the original film as nachos have to do with Swan Lake.

Grease 2: Pink Ladies
It even boasted the worst dressed Pink Ladies in the history of Grease, and let’s be honest, were the Pink Ladies ever well dressed?
Grease: Pink Ladies
Oh, wait, yes they were. Maybe not accurate, but not quite so Halloween-y.

But, was the film all that bad? Can I find something good to say about it? Well, I haven’t the foggiest, I guess we’re going to find out together!

ZinoneIn the film, the roles are reversed. The Pink Lady in question, Stephanie Zinone (played by a fresh-faced Michelle Pfeiffer), is the Danny Zukko this time around. She’s a staple at Rydell High, has known her friends forever and it’s hinted at that she’s considered the coolest girl in school (In my head, I’m hearing John Bender’s, “Queenie isn’t here.” speech from The Breakfast Club, and I think it just about fits!). She’s also in a semi-dramatic post-relationship with Rydell’s resident asswipe and leader of the T-Bird’s, the oddly beautiful idiot Johnny Nogerelli (Adrian Zmed).

CarringtonSandy Olsson‘s role was given to her very own British cousin, the insanely gorgeous Michael Carrington (Maxwell Caulfield), who’s attending Rydell for the first time having just moved to America. Michael is supposedly a dofus, and supposedly nerdy, but they didn’t make nerds who looked like that when I was in high school so I’m going to have to take their word for it! Of course, Michael instantly falls for Stephanie, and that’s when the trouble with the T-Birds starts.

Basically, Stephanie has a choice between her dummy of an ex-boyfriend who’s shapely and throwing himself at her feet, and some nerdy pin-up who’d (apparently) nearly kill himself learning to ride a motorcycle just to be with her. I can sort of understand why she’s having trouble choosing.

Thanks to Emmy for the gif!
Thanks to Emmy for the gif!

Having seen the film several times in my life (generally as the special movie on Network television during the 4th of July), I’ve come to develop a theory about what’s going on with it, and why it hits everyone in the face the first or second time they’ve seen it. Click Here to skip the rant.

And off-topic rant in 3, 2, 1…

See, one of the things that a lot of people don’t know about the process of getting a film made is that very few (practically none, actually) of the films that make it to theaters have their original script intact. Screenwriters often times sell or hand off their work to a studio who then bring on board their script doctors. A script doctor is a second writer, or writers plural, who re-write (or write a ‘treatment’) of the work given to them by the studio – in other words, “Here’s someone else’s baby, now make it watchable, add cliches, force it to fit this mold, re-write this character to appeal to a certain demographic, etc.”

A good example of that are sometime writing partners Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, the writing talent and vision behind beloved films such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Aladdin. You probably love a lot of their work and don’t even know it. And you may hate some work that you think is thier fault. What am I talking about? I’m talking about Little Monsters.

No, seriously, the scr
No, seriously, at one time the script for this film was fantastic.

The final product was so bad that people were astounded and dismayed that the huge child star, Fred Savage, would ever get involved in such a piece of crap. Seriously, how could his people let him attach his name to it? Only they didn’t. The simple answer, here, is that when Savage hitched his wagon to that star – it was an actual star, and not a dog dootie. But someone knew what the public liked, or someone had an agenda, and when it was all said and done they had ruined what would have been a classic and condemned it to eternal VHS.

Then there’s Joss Whedon, once writer on Roseanne, mastermind behind The Avengers and Serenity, cult-classic maker who created Dr. Horrible. Something like that could never happen to him, right? Wrong.

Yep, that’s Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer in it’s 1992 skin. Though he downplays it, it’s well known that the studio took Joss’ script (which boasted romance, drama, loss, joy, metaphors for growing up disguised as dangerous monsters, all wrapped up in a healthy dose of sarcasm and wit – and was much like the acclaimed television series of the same name ) and rearranged it so that it’s overall theme was the misconceptions people have about vampires. Sure, some of Whedon’s work is still evident, especially in the SlayGal lingo, but the damage was already done. But, I have to hand it to the cast for being like-able and taking it somewhat seriously. Thank thunder, only a few years later Joss had the chance to re-write Buffy history on the then-budding WB Network.

There's a reason why it's hard to believe they were both written by the same person.
There’s a reason why it’s hard to believe they were both created by the same person.

So the script doctor writes the treatment they’re more or less told to write, in the way they’re told to write it. And it’s still not finished. Everyone from the studio heads to producers, directors to actors have input on what actually gets shot, what lines are spoken, etc. They watch the dailies as they come in and decide to keep, change or discard what they’re seeing. Let’s assume, now, the the film has been shot and the necessary (not all, just what’s absolutely necessary) post production is mostly completed. Then you have focus groups & paid panels who watch the film, sometimes in segments, sometimes full reel. They tell you what they like, what they don’t like, how it made them feel, etc., and any other questions that they’re asked. And if the film has bits that are too negatively received? It’s very possible that those might be on the chopping block again. And it’s still not finished

Why am I telling you all this? And boring the crap out of you? Because I get the feeling that Grease 2 probably started out as an completely separate film, before being given a treatment. If you take a beer knife to the film and scrape off the foam of Grease, you start to see an entirely different movie. Seriously, take out all the songs, and rip the veneer of it’s predecessor off. Try to forget the film is a ‘sequel’ to Grease, and don’t compare the two. I’ll bet that the script was dynamite, because it’s soul is still visible under all the mayhem.

The main characters are only shoved into the shoes of Danny, Sandy & Rizzo. If you take away the notion of what roles they’re supposed to fill, and just look at them for what they are, it becomes pretty clear that they really had something.

Yes, that’s right, this is a good review of Grease 2. Don’t get too excited, there’s plenty to roll eyes about in the film – like the fact that the songs come out of nowhere, are half-assed and cheesy, and completely take away from every scene they’re in. Or the horrible, ‘whatever no one’s using’ fashion sense and ‘I totally slept on this’ hair of literally all of the characters sans Stephanie, who seems to think it’s 1981. Or even that the side-characters have (at least, most of the time) literally no personalities and what little plot work they do get is predictable and not well thought out?

Zinone, an we use your plot when you're done with it?
Zinone, can we use some of your plot when you’re done with it?

In almost every way that the Grease was great, Grease 2 is lacking. They try so hard to hit the beats, but who can live up to a film that was so popular that for decades it’s had one of the best selling soundtrack’s in the history of film, and is so beloved that it seems to be neck and neck with Romeo & Juliet when time to pick out a high-school play to perform?

On top of all that, the miracle of Jeff Conaway being hot just the one time.
On top of all that, the miracle of Jeff Conaway being hot just the one time.

But take all that away, and out comes a really cool film with some larger than life characters. First of all, the T-Birds are hilarious. They’re trying too hard to be Danny’s T-Birds, but they fill out the film well and are a lot funnier and more loveable than I initially ever gave them credit for. Then there are the Pink Ladies, all funny and vibrant, they perk up every scene there in – even if they’re wearing gold lamé pants while doing it.

Basically, the ensemble is amazing, so long as you’re not expecting them to live up to Grease. They’re energetic, they’re fun, but unfortunately they cease to exist when they’re off screen. Plus, who doesn’t love Paulette’s little sister (and Michael’s first American girlfriend :P), Delores Rebchuck and her skateboard?

Grease 2 Ensemble

The two lead couples are outstanding, and you spend the entire film rooting for Paulette and Michael to win their dreamboat. They all have valid reasons for chasing the person they want, and even Johnny is sympathetic (even if he is pretty much neglecting Paulette) in his quest to win back Stephanie. It’s hard to not hope they all end up happy.

Like birds of a feather, forever and ever...
Like birds of a feather, forever and ever…

If it weren’t for the songs, title, etc., would this film be a classic now?

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