47 At The Movies

In Defence Of... Grease 2, Michelle Pfeiffer's much-maligned sequel

A mainstay of worst-sequels-ever-made lists, squirming alongside the likes of Batman & Robin, Speed 2 and Exorcist II: The Heretic, Grease 2 was roundly lambasted upon its 1982 release and its critical reputation has nose-dived ever since. Here's a film that cost $11.2m to make (£6.7m) - almost twice the budget of its much-loved, popular culture-bothering forerunner - and yet failed to secure the return of its two stars, John Travolta and Olivier Newton-John, or its composers, Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.

It entered its 58-day shoot working from an unfinished script, with Didi Conn (reappearing as Frenchy, though she vanishes halfway through the movie) calling the production "rushed, frantic and unorganised". Its stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield failed to get along, Pfeiffer later labelling her on-screen lover as "self-adoring". It turned away a young Tom Cruise for the role of T-Birds leader Johnny Nogerelli, instead plumping for the strikingly uncharismatic Adrian Zmed. And its $15m take at the box office (Grease took $395m from a $6m budget) put paid to plans of a third and fourth movie, followed by a TV series.

But the truth is, it's nowhere near as bad as everyone makes out. It is, in fact, something of a camp classic, enjoyable on its own terms and boasting a marvellously insouciant performance from Pfeiffer as the leader of the Pink Ladies. (Variety noted "she fills Olivia Newton-John's shoes and tight pants very well".) The next year Pfeiffer would act opposite Al Pacino in Brian De Palma's Scarface and go stratospheric, but it was here, sneering around a mouthful of bubblegum, that her star was born.

Maureen Teefy, Lorna Luft, Alison Price & Michelle Pfeiffer in Grease 2 (1982)

© Rex Features / Moviestore Collection

The plot is a rerun of the original, albeit with a gender reversal. Set in 1961, two years after Danny and Sandy headed skywards in their red convertible, we open on a new school year at Rydell High School as Sandy's cousin Michael (Caulfield) arrives from England. Despite being a straight-A student who wears spectacles and pastel sweaters, he immediately falls for Stephanie (Pfeiffer) but is informed, via the medium of song and dance, that she's "looking for a dream on a mean machine/ With hell in his eyes".

Michael promptly buys a motorcycle and pair of identity-hiding goggles and morphs into mystery hero Cool Rider, repeatedly racing to the rescue of his Rydell High cohorts when they're threatened by rival bike gang Cycle Lords. Cool Rider chooses the graduation luau (!) to finally reveal he's none other than geeky, courteous Michael, an unveiling that sparks, naturally, dancing and smooching all round.

The dancing is decent throughout Grease 2, though critics at the time saw only the absence of Travolta's jack-knifing hips and seemed oblivious to the tidily choreographed, pleasingly boisterous crowd numbers (the exception being The New York Times, who begrudgingly noted "a talent for generating liveliness".) For all its faults, Grease 2 at least benefited in this department thanks to the decision to promote the first movie's choreographer, Patricia Birch, to director, thus ensuring tightly-packaged spectacles at regular intervals - many of them sharper than a majority of the set-pieces in Grease.

Maxwell Caufield & Michelle Pfeiffer in Grease 2 (1982)

© Rex Features / Moviestore Collection

The songs, too, are a whole lot of goofy fun, at times pulling off some sublimely silly lyrical gymnastics ("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!") to some toe-tapping early rock numbers. OK, so there's nothing here to rival 'Summer Nights', 'Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee' and 'Hopelessly Devoted to You', but could we really expect (greased) lightning to strike twice? The original, after all, boasts a once-in-a-lifetime soundtrack, its hits still played at weddings and bar mitzvahs 36 years on. But tunes like 'Back to School Again', 'Cool Rider' and the cheerfully daffy 'Reproduction' are perfectly credible - they're certainly not the duds reported at the time.

Also of interest in Grease 2 is the gentle mocking of Uncle Sam. Grease 3 and 4, when scheduled, were going to take the franchise into the late '60s and then the Watergate era, with the rockers of the first two movies superseded by the disillusioned kids of the counterculture.

There are hints of what was to come in the second movie, with the political world outside the bubble of Rydell High vaguely established by references to the Russians in space, Jackie Kennedy's hair and the nuclear threat. But a member of the T-Birds, Louis DeMucci (Pater Frenchette), fakes a nuclear attack to try and trick his girlfriend into giving up her virginity in a fallout shelter, singing that they'll be "doing it for the Statue of Liberty... for Disneyland" during the faintly subversive song 'Let's Do It For Our Country'.

Maureen Teefy, Lorna Luft, Alison Price & Michelle Pfeiffer in Grease 2 (1982)

© Rex Features / Moviestore Collection

Stephanie, meanwhile, foreshadows the second wave of the American feminist movement when she dumps Johnny at the start of the picture, saying, "There's gotta be more to life than making out... I'm tired of being someone's chick." It's no coincidence given the movie is set two years before the publication of Betty Friedan's game-changing The Feminine Mystique. (Though before we get too carried away, it should be noted that Stephanie's mooning over the mysterious Cool Rider just minutes after declaring her autonomy.)

Nobody is saying Grease 2 is a great film or even an especially good film, but it is a long way from the irredeemable clunker that history has it down as. This is a movie that was decried as being so bad it effectively stalled rising Broadway star Caulfield's career for 10 years, the actor bemoaning, "Before Grease 2 came out, I was being hailed as the next Richard Gere or John Travolta." He likened the critical and public reaction to "a bucket of cold water... thrown in my face." Perhaps it's time to give this much-maligned movie another go and dance to your own beat. It might just be the one that you want.
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7 At The Movies

What is Divergent? Everything you need to know about Shailene Woodley's movie

By , Features Editor
We know. We know. Catching Fire has only just slipped into the rearview mirror, so it's difficult to give much thought to another young adult franchise. Much less one that has been repeatedly - and tiresomely - billed as "The new Hunger Games!".

For the record, it isn't. Veronica Roth's Divergent series does feature a strong-minded young female protagonist in Tris Prior (played in the upcoming film by Shailene Woodley), and it does take place in a dystopian future where American society has been divided into several factions. There the similarities end.

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35 At The Movies

8 movie classics that were box office flops: From Blade Runner to Brazil

By , Movies Contributor
"The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long," muses Dr Eldon Tyrell in Blade Runner. This statement doesn't apply to a startling list of classic movies that faded fast at the box office on initial release, but whose flames have been burning with more intensity as the years have passed...

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0 At The Movies

Star Wars cast: Ford, Fisher, Hamill before they were famous

By , Movies Editor
When news broke earlier this week that five young up-and-coming actors were in line for the lead Jedi role in Star Wars Episode VII, Google search bars will likely have been working overtime as film fans tried to match faces to names.

Ed Speleers, John Boyega, Jesse Plemons, Matthew James Thomas and Ray Fisher may not be household names, but Star Wars has a history of turning unknowns into big stars.

With the casting cogs turning for Star Wars: Episode VII, we take a look at what Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were up to before they met George Lucas.

Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford and Linda Christensen in American Graffiti 1973

© Getty Images / Silver Screen Collection

Harrison Ford and Linda Christensen in American Graffiti (1973)

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3 At The Movies

Jonathan Glazer: 10 stunning music videos and ads from Under the Skin director

By , Movies Editor
Jonathan Glazer returns to the big screen this week with Under the Skin, his first film since 2004's Birth and only his third feature in total having broken through with Sexy Beast in 2000.

'Under the Skin' film premiere, 70th Venice International Film Festival, Italy - 03 Sep 2013
Scarlett Johnasson


Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

© StudioCanal

Under the Skin review: Scarlett Johansson haunts in mesmerising sci-fi

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin is an eerie, unsettling science fiction story about an alien in female form who ensnares hitchhikers in Scotland. It's a film of striking visual and sonic beauty - no surprise considering Glazer cut his directorial teeth on ads and music videos.

Digital Spy takes a look back - in chronological order - at some of Glazer's best work outside of the feature film world below. If proof were needed that he needs to direct more movies, this is it.

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16 At The Movies

Clueless: What the cast did after hit teen comedy

By , Entertainment Reporter
Iggy Azalea paid tribute to cult teen classic Clueless in her recent music video for 'Fancy'.

The Australian rapper appears as Alicia Silverstone's iconic character Cher in the video, which was released online last week.

As stars continue to be inspired by the movie almost 20 years on, we take a fond look back at the cast and what they went on to do after Clueless:

Alicia Silverstone (Cher Horowitz)

Alicia Silverstone, Clueless 1995
American Music Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, America - 24 Nov 2013
Alicia Silverstone
24 Nov 2013

© REX/Broadimage

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1 At The Movies

9 things we learned from The Hunger Games Catching Fire DVD extras

By , Movies Editor
Arriving on home release on March 17, the Hunger Games: Catching Fire Blu-ray and 2-disc DVD set go beyond the usual thrifty bonus feature content for a deep dive into the making of the sequel.

A nine-part behind-the-scenes documentary, which runs over two hours, takes fans through the entire production process - from hiring Francis Lawrence to replace Gary Ross right through to the preparation for the two-part Mockingjay adaptation.

Here are nine things we uncovered from Catching Fire's bumper making-of doc...

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7 At The Movies

Re-Viewed: Terry Gilliam's prescient sci-fi Brazil


Terry Gilliam is making a comeback this year. In July, the ex-Monty Python animator will reunite with his Flying Circus colleagues for an O2 residency. Before then, though, Gilliam returns to dystopian sci-fi with The Zero Theorem, a film whose patchwork aesthetic can't help but recall his 1985 masterpiece, Brazil.

Apt really, considering how prescient his visionary fable has become. Never mind the imminent World Cup. Gilliam's Brazil – a land where the authorities wield information as a weapon and where dreams are shackled by callous austerity – is even more pertinent to life in 2014.

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29 At The Movies

Oscars 2015: 5 early predictions for next year's nominations

By , Features Editor
We know you've barely recovered from this year's selfie and pizza shenanigans, and it's really too early to start thinking about next year's Academy Awards without risking serious mental health repercussions.

But next awards season is already looking sort of exciting. There are new offerings from Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan, a David Fincher adaptation of our favourite book from last year, and the role that may very well net Benedict Cumberbatch his first Oscar nomination. Enticed? Read on...


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