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Grease is the word…but it's a word we haven't yet heard as we watch Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson frolic on a beach. They don't look greasy, but they better have applied sunscreen. Sandy tells Danny that she'll have to go back to Australia soon, but Danny assures Sandy it isn't the end of their romance; it's "only the beginning."
He doesn't know how right he is.
After very groovy and very 1970s opening title sequence, where we finally learn that Grease is the word (we were worried it wasn't the word), we're transported to Rydell High. The year: 1958. The clothes: leather jackets. The hair: greasy.
Danny Zuko and his pals Kenickie and the T-Birds (great band name) reunite for one last year of high school, already ready for it to be over.
Meanwhile, Frenchy welcomes a new girl to her group The Pink Ladies, which includes bad girl Rizzo, hungry Jan, and thirsty (for boys) Marty. The new girl's name: Sandy Olsson. Le gasp!
Not knowing the other one is at the very same school, Sandy and Danny tell their friends about their wonderful summer romance. Later, Sandy, having joined the cheerleading squad, attends the Rydell High pep rally. After the rally, Rizzo introduces Sandy to Danny. She's not trying to play matchmaker—she's trying to embarrass and humiliate the both of them.
It works. Danny, trying to maintain his tough guy image, acts like he doesn't remember Sandy. Sandy is upset and calls Danny a variety of cruel names, like "liar," "fake," and "star of Battlefield Earth." (Kidding.) To soothe Sandy, Frenchy invites her to a slumber party.
It isn't very soothing. Rizzo peer pressures Sandy into drinking and smoking, Frenchy pierces Sandy's ear with a needle without permission, and, while Sandy is in the bathroom, Rizzo puts on a blonde wig and sings a song mocking her for being a virgin. Whatever happened to pillow fights?
Rizzo departs the slumber party prematurely to ride with Kenickie to a place where teens go to make out…and more. Even though Kenickie doesn't have a condom, he and Rizzo decide to go all the way. When the car's a-rockin' don't come a-knockin'. Oh wait, the car is rocking because someone just backed into it.
Kenickie's car is dented by Leo, a member of the rival gang Scorpions. Remember his face for later. Danny and the T-Birds swear they'll transform Kenickie's hunk of scrap metal into a flashy hot rod called Greased Lightnin'.
One night at the malt shop, Danny, jealous that Sandy is dating a hunky football player, apologizes for the rude way he acted. But he still can't keep his ego in check. He tells Sandy he could run circles around any of the athletes. Sandy says, "I'll believe it when I see it."
To impress Sandy, Danny tries out for every sports team: basketball, wrestling, the Rydell High Curling Squad. When he falls flat on his face during hurdles, Sandy finds it endearing that he's trying to impress her. She agrees to go out with him again. They go to the malt shop, which seems to be the only place in town because everyone is there again.
No one stays long, except for Frenchy, who's sad because she is failing beauty school and dyed her own hair hot pink. She has a vision where Frankie Avalon tells her to drop out of beauty school and return to high school. Um. What exactly is in that hair dye?
At school, the crew for the TV show National Bandstand is setting up. (It's a totally different show than American Bandstand to avoid being sued by Dick Clark.) All the T-Birds and Pink Ladies are there, except Rizzo has shown up with Leo of the Scorpions to make Kenickie jealous. The two testosterone-fueled boys get into a fistfight and leave the dance floor. Reality TV in the 1950s is too respectable for violent behavior.
The show is a competition. Danny and Sandy are poised to win until Sandy gets jealous of another girl named Cha Cha, and not just because Cha Cha is better at the cha cha. Sandy storms out when Danny won't admit he was in a prior relationship with Cha Cha. Danny and Cha Cha go on to perform the finale dance and win a slick little trophy. Someone get Cha Cha on Dancing with the Stars, stat.
At the drive-in, Danny attempts to legitimize his relationship with Sandy by giving her his class ring to wear. She's thrilled. First a class ring, then an engagement ring. But when Danny attempts to grope Sandy, that goes against her morals, and she throws the ring back at him.
Meanwhile, everyone finds out that Rizzo is pregnant. Kenickie, thinking it's his, steps up to the plate, but Rizzo tells him the baby isn't his. To get his mind off this strikeout, and maybe to try and repair his cracked machismo, Kenickie races Leo on Thunder Road. It's like Ben Hur meets Mad Max. Winner gets the other one's car.
Unfortunately for Kenickie, he hits his head on the car door and sits out of the big race. Danny takes over and leaves Leo in his dust, although both cars get almost wrecked in the process. Congrats, Danny, you just won a junk heap. Sandy observes the whole race, and, upon seeing what a stud Danny is, decides she needs to upgrade her image.
The kids graduate Rydell and celebrate at a fair. The big attraction isn't a Ferris Wheel or the Tilt-a-Whirl. It's Sandy, who's had a super sexy makeover—big hair, big heels, big personality. They sing the rockin' duet "You're the One That I Want" and fly away from the carnival in Danny's car. (Or did they inhale too much of Frenchy's hair dye?)