Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

“Cool Rider” was too good for Grease 2

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Great songs in terrible movies.

“Cool Rider,” Grease 2 (1982)

In the world of unfortunate movie sequels, Grease 2 has a horrible rep. Since it followed an unbelievable smash like 1978’s Grease, there was little chance it would live up to the original. But the sequel hired Grease’s choreographer Patricia Birch to direct her first and still only feature film, and the result is a series of completely over-the-top musical numbers with hundreds of dancing extras, and a nonsensical plot to tie it all together. It’s not like the original Grease was Shakespeare, but it had two huge stars as leads and a soundtrack with years of off-Broadway history behind it along with new songs by songwriters like Barry Gibb. The followup did not.

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The then-unknowns hired to head up Grease 2 did the best they could. The sequel switched genders on the original good girl/bad boy setup, with Pink Lady Stephanie (Michelle Pfeiffer) dodging the affections of dreamy but nerdy Michael (Maxwell Caulfield, Rex Manning himself). Because even though Stephanie has outgrown greaser Johnny (Adrian Zmed), like we all have, she still wants a motorcycle guy. She professes her love for her preferred type in her solo, “Cool Rider,” the highlight of the Grease 2 soundtrack. Granted, there’s not much competition, with other cuts like the biology class sex anthem “Reproduction.” “We’re Gonna Score Tonight” (“Let’s bowl, let’s bowl, let’s / Rock ’n’ roll”) improbably pulled off a massive musical number in a bowling alley, while “A Girl For All Seasons” offered some of the most elaborate costuming ever seen in a high-school talent show. These middling songs weren’t terrible on their own, but they were a far cry from “Summer Nights.”

So Grease 2’s most successful musical number pares down all the headache-inducing fanfare, wisely focusing on the inimitable star magnitude of Michelle Pfeiffer, who is still so popular she was referenced in two hit songs just this past summer (“Riptide” and “Uptown Funk”). In her first real lead, Pfeiffer throws herself into her Grease 2 role, but nowhere more effectively than in “Cool Rider.” The fun and nonsensical logic of musicals compels Stephanie to sing this song to explain to the cardigan-clad Michael why he is too lame for her. Fortunately, “Cool Rider” boasts an excellent hook-filled chorus, as Pfeiffer’s surprisingly sweet vocals sell the song over. She even commits to the dance moves, such as they are: a few kick-ball-changes, some Elvis gyrations, and pivots. By the end, we’re looking for a “Cool Rider” ourselves, as Michael fades away in the distance. Or does he?

Unfortunately, Grease 2 bombed so badly that any additional sequels were immediately scrapped. But for all its faults, the sequel does not suffer from lack of effort, and “Cool Rider“ shows a glimmer of what a worthy Grease followup might have been.

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