DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
GREASE (director: Randal Kleiser; screenwriters: Bronte Woodward/adapted by Allan Carr from the Broadway musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey; cinematographer: Bill Butler; editor: John F. Burnett; music: dances and musical sequences staged and choreographed by Patricia Birch; cast: John Travolta (Danny), Olivia Newton-John (Sandy), Stockard Channing (Rizzo), Jeff Conaway (Kenickie), Eve Arden (Principal McGee), Frankie Avalon (Teen Angel), Joan Blondell  (Vi), Sid Caesar (Coach Calhoun), Edd Byrnes (Vince Fontaine), Didi Conn (Frenchy), Barry Pearl (Doody), Dody Goodman (Blanche), Alice Ghostley (Mrs. Murdock), Sha-Na-Na (Johnny Casino and the Gamblers), Kelly Ward (Putzie), Susan Buckner (Patty Simcox), Eddie Deszen (Eugene), Annette Charles (Cha Cha), Lorenzo Lamas (Tom Chisum), Jamie Donnelly (Jan), Marty (Dinah Manoff); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Robert Stigwood/Mr. Carr; Paramount Pictures; 1978)

 
"A dumb but lively rock musical."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A dumb but lively rock musical directed by Randal Kleiser ("Honey I Blew Up The Kids"/"White Fang"/"The Blue Lagoon"), in his feature film debut. It's so moronic that it even makes the beach blanket movies look smart in comparison. It's based on the long-running popular stage musical, which opened on Broadway in 1972 to mixed reviews. Plagued by an unbelievably crude script by Bronte Woodward, the Rock 'n' Roll venture is based on 1950s teenagers as greasers in a California high school (no longer Chicago). The pic supposedly tempts us with nostalgia for such things as American Bandstand, dance contests, soda fountain hangouts, gang members sporting black leather jackets, souped-up car races, and the Sha-Na-Na rock music of the period. The energetic film only gels when the music plays such zippy lightweight songs as the title song (written by Barry Gibb and performed by Frankie Valli), 'You're the One that I Want,' 'Hopelessly Devoted to You,' 'Summer Nights,' 'Look at me I'm Sandra Dee,' Greased Lightning,' 'There Are Worse Things I Could Do,' 'We Go Together,' 'It's Raining on Prom Night,' and 'Tears on my Pillow.' It adds a few 1970s numbers for the movie, plus many oldies from the 1950s fill the screen. The colorful sets and snappy musical numbers lull you into thinking this mindless pic might not be that bad. But it's the kind of lackluster clumsily put together pic that thinks because it's amiable, loud and brash it can fool you into thinking it has something going on inside its empty head. This is the teenage pic, despite borrowing liberally, can only sniff from a far distance what West Side Story and Rebel Without a Cause achieved in honing in on societal problems during the 1950s.

After a sex free summer romance at the beach, innocent virginal Australian visitor Sandy (Olivia Newton-John, the 30-year-old Australian pop singer's American film debut) and loud-mouth greaser Danny (John Travolta) are somehow surprised to find themselves as seniors in Rydell High School. The pic tracks their bumpy romance, that ends as one would expect in teenage bliss. In school Danny reverts from being her nice guy boyfriend at the beach, to the finger-snapping punk leader of the high school gang the T-birds. The reactionary teen pic has Danny learn to conform (joins the track team) and graduate from the school and gang, as it leaves us with confusing gender political messages that are strictly wacko as Danny tries to win Sandy over again with his new act of revealing his supposed true self.

Rizzo (Stockard Channing) is the outwardly gruff but inwardly softhearted leader of the girl gang. The hottie high school fems call themselves the Pink Ladies (wear pink jackets to class) and flaunt that they put out for the greasers. Eve Arden is the school's goofy unflappable principal, while Sid Caesar is the  goofy but earnest coach--that these two veteran comics can't manage even one funny line between them, which speaks volumes for the script. Edd Byrnes has a cameo as the lecherous host of a teen-age TV show, a part that goes nowhere.

It's the kind of bad free-wheeling film that many find likable for various reasons, as it gives the viewer a chance to fantasize over their high school days. Unfortunately, I found more to dislike than like. Nevertheless, the film proved to be the biggest box-office hit of 1978.  

REVIEWED ON 12/29/2010       GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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