‘Grease 2’ turns 40: Why the ‘more fun, female-forward’ sequel is better than the original – USA TODAY

If "Grease" is the word, then itsscattershotsequel is a run-on sentence.

Featuring gleefully chaotic musical numbers and moreabandoned storylinesthan "Game of Thrones," "Grease 2" opened in theaters on June 11, 1982, with high hopes of matching the success of its 1978predecessor starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

Set in 1961, two years after Danny (Travolta) and Sandy (Newton-John) literally flew off in a souped-up car, the sequel is once again set at Rydell High School, where new Pink Ladies leader StephanieZinone (Michelle Pfeiffer) meetsMichael Carrington (Maxwell Caulfield), an impossibly handsome British student who's also Sandy's cousin. But when Stephanie rebuffs his advances, saying she's holding out for a "cool rider," Michael transforms into a masked, motorcycling hunk to win her heart.

"Grease 2" flatlined at the box office thanks in part to blistering reviews, with critics calling it a "slight" and "mostly awful" rehash of the original. As a result, Paramount scrapped plans for a third and fourth movie set during the counterculture movement.

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But thanks to a livelyTwitter conversationsparked by "The Big Sick"directorMichael Showalter, and famous fans including Andrew Garfield and June Diane Raphael, the film has been fondly re-evaluated online in recent years, with many peopleinsisting that "Grease 2" is actually better than the first movie.

"It's an improvement on the original 'Grease.' It has a more fun, female-forward energy," says writer Gwen Ihnat, who penneda passionate defense of the sequel in 2017 for The AV Club. "The fact that Sandy changes herself completely is so much less empowering than Stephanie, who isn't changing for anybody. She has all these guys after her and chooses whoshe wants to be with."

As a self-confessed "die-hard fan" of the first movie, comedian/host Anna Roisman won't go so far as to say "Grease 2" is superior. But she points to the second film'swall-to-wall bops written by Louis St. Louis and choreographed by director Patricia Birch, and infectious songs such as "Cool Rider," "Reproduction" and "Girl for All Seasons"that rival anything in the original Broadway adaptation.

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"Name another movie that turns the sport of bowling into a full musical production," Roisman says of the innuendo-filled "Score Tonight."And with endless scenes of Rydell students auditioning for the school talent show,"('Grease 2') just hits harder as a theater kid, because let's face it, they're all theater kids. This movie is for the nerds who needed that talent show."

Birch has said the script wasunfinished when shooting started, which may explain some of the abrupt shifts in tone and plot. Although Travolta and Newton-John don'treturn for "Grease 2," Didi Conn comes back as beauty school dropout Frenchy. Now pursuing skin care, Frenchy reenrolls at Rydell to take chemistry, only to disappear without explanation midway through the movie.

"I just love that Frenchy is still in school," Roisman says. "She is the glue that holds this franchise together.I also think the luau is the trippiest scene in any movie, and I dont do drugs. Scenes like that scream 'cult following' to me."

"Thereare all these dumb little things that crack me up," Ihnat adds, pointing to Stephanie's zealous ketchupobsessionand how Michael does all his schoolworkin his uncle's fallout shelter. "It's funnier (than the original). There's a low-key charm."

Like the first "Grease," the sequel aimed to make big stars out of its young cast of mostly unknowns, which also included Pamela Adlon (FX's "Better Things") and Lorna Luft (Judy Garland's daughter) in minor roles.

Pfeiffer, who was just 23 at the time, went on to shoot her breakthrough role in "Scarface" five months after the movie's release. Caulfield, meanwhile, struggled to gain traction in Hollywood, and has spoken openly about the psychological toll it took on him to watch Pfeiffer's famegrowso quickly in contrast.

Given the inevitable comparisons to Travolta and Newton-John, both actors "had an uphill battle, but I think they did a really great job and have this wonderful chemistry," Ihnat says. "It's really about enjoying Michelle's star power. And Maxwell Caulfield? Totally missed opportunity there, America."

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'Grease 2' turns 40: Why the 'more fun, female-forward' sequel is better than the original - USA TODAY

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