G is for Grease 2: tell me more, tell me more, like why was this made?

In monthly column The A-to-Z of Trash, bad movie lover Eliza Janssen takes us on an alphabetically-ordered trip through the best bits of the worst films ever. This month, she forced a group of unsuspecting peers to watch daggy musical sequel Grease 2. They were unamused.

The topic of Grease comes up. Everyone has seen it, because it’s Grease, 1978, starring Olivia Newton-John-Travolta. I gulp down a dry lump of thrill in my throat; the hairs on my arm rise to attention. I raise my voice and ask the gang, “have you guys seen Grease 2?”

They have not. Luckily, I own a boxset of all three Grease films (the third disc being 2016’s pretty great TV musical Grease Live), and so it gets loaded up onto the living room screen. My dear friends, all established critics and cinephiles, have never seen the movie that Olivia Newton-John turned down to do Xanadu! Never heard the lyrics to the song “Reproduction”, which go in part; now you see just how the stamen gets its lusty dust onto the stigma/and why this frenzied chlorophyllous orgy starts in spring is no enigma! Until tonight.

There are some people (read: sickos) out there who claim Grease 2 is superior to the original, perhaps for how it flips the troublesome gender dynamic of Randall Kleiser’s film. Instead of Sandy metamorphosing into a bad grrl to meet the approval of bonehead greaser Danny, this film has bad grrl Pink Lady Stephanie (Michelle Pfeiffer, innocent) encouraging a British nerd (Maxwell Caulfield) to perform motorcycle stunts for her pleasure. He also happens to be the cousin of Newton-John’s Sandy, which poor returning Didi Conn (Frenchy herself) reveals to us in groan-worthy expository dialogue. In her first major film role, Pfeiffer emerges unscathed from the daggy story and lame songs surrounding her rebellious character…but a girlbossified heroine does not a feminist revision of Grease 2 make.

My friends had plenty to gasp and roll their eyes at during the screening. The main culprit was a song in which one of the new T-Birds tricks his boo into a fallout shelter, lying to her that the nuclear end is nigh so that they can “do it for their country”. In plenty of ways, both Grease movies live up to thick oily lubricant of their title, romanticising the sleazy high school dynamics of teenagers as played by grown-ass adults with mortgages. Grease 2 merely fails at the same hurdles that Grease easily slid by, thanks to the power of charismatic stars and catchy, Broadway-tested songs.

The ensemble numbers in the sequel are especially dire, which is weird since the movie was directed and choreographed by the same creative; Patricia Birch, whose entire career on either sides of Grease 2 focuses solely on dance. “Back to School Again” desperately wants to be an iconic opening tune, and both “Rock-a-Hula-Luau” and “We’ll Be Together” strive to recreate the nonsensical fun of “We Go Together” from the first film. There are songs about bowling (“let’s bowl, let’s bowl, let’s rock and roll!”); songs performed at an absolutely pointless singing competition; and a few much weaker cracks at the machismo of “Greased Lightning”, in which Adrian Zmed sings about picking up poontang at the supermarket (“There’s a female butcher, at the luncheon meat display/Got the best tongue in town, she delivers both night and day!”).

The film’s romance is barely worth mentioning. Male lead Caulfield has spoken bitterly about his career-ruining role, but the guy also petitioned for the film to be called “Son of Grease”, so I kind of don’t know what to tell him. Becoming a masked motorcycle hero to attract Pfeiffer, his arc feels entirely separate to the rest of the Rydell High shenanigans. His singing is meh, and when we’re lead to believe that he’s plummeted to his death in an ill-fated game of chicken, it’s hard to feel too mournful.

Into act three, I feel attention waning from the room. I’ve invited these people into my highly specific Grease 2 kink, and they’re not getting off. I’m not sure whether to chant along to my favourite song, the ridiculous “Reproduction” which really does deserve its second mention here, or not; I will be singing solo, everyone else fighting their urge to leave, sleep, or throw something at my head.

My siblings and I used to race home from school and rewatch the song on YouTube, simultaneously laughing at how crap it was and sincerely trying to belt the best bits. There’s a complete lack of cool to Grease 2 that, when compared to the phenomenal popularity of the first film, makes it a delight for any smug theatre kid just beginning to notice the cringiness of musicals as a media.

My friends give in as the credits roll, as tired as I am exhilarated and sweaty with glee. We should’ve just watched the original Grease, so that everybody could sing along, could quote the horndog lines in unison…but in my household, a true “Cool Rider” must ride alone. And that’s spelled “C-O-O-L, R-I-D-E-R’, as Pfeiffer informs us as she shimmies atop a random ladder.