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.
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.
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'.
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.