Film Review: Pitch Perfect 2

The 2012 sleeper about a capella singing competitions goes bigger (if not better) for its second round, but generates enough fun to be a resounding hit.
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The charming and funny Pitch Perfect (2012) only made $65 million in domestic theatres, but it was one of those word-of-mouth movies that attracts a huge following in its second life on home-video and cable TV. The inevitable Pitch Perfect 2 is bigger and brassier, if not quite as charming and surprising, but it recycles many of the original’s beloved ingredients effectively and is poised to become one of this month’s big theatrical hits.

The entire huge cast is back, with a few key additions, in this mischievous inside look at the cutthroat world of competitive a cappella singers. Our rooting interest is in the Bellas of Barden University, an all-female troupe who weathered internal tensions and various humiliations to emerge as champions in the first film. As the sequel begins, three years later, the Bellas are performing at an event attended by President and Mrs. Obama when member “Fat Amy” (Rebel Wilson) tears her Spandex outfit while suspended from the ceiling, a catastrophe that goes viral and is dubbed “Muffgate.” As punishment, the Bellas are banned from U.S. competitions; their one chance of restoring their reputation is by entering the fiercely contested World Championships of A Cappella in Copenhagen. Their most intimidating rival: a leather-clad army of muscular German electronica specialists called Das Sound Machine.

Subplots abound in Kay Cannon’s screenplay, more to give various cast members something to do than to advance the story forward. Leader Beca (Anna Kendrick), who longs to be a music producer, is keeping her internship at a recording company a secret from the other girls, lest they think she’s being disloyal. Fat Amy and onetime rival Bumper (Adam DeVine) are struggling to define their relationship. And poised to carry the franchise toward another sequel is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Emily, a freshman who joins the Bellas as a second-generation legacy and tries to persuade the group to tackle one of her original compositions (an inspirational song called “Flashlight,” co-written by hot pop stars Sia and Sam Smith).

Once again, a highpoint is the big “riff-off,” improvised medleys from competing a cappella groups (including members of the Green Bay Packers!) on such themes as “Butts” and “I Dated John Mayer.” A back-to-basics “boot camp” sequence overseen by the Bellas’ former obsessive leader Aubrey (Anna Camp) takes a break from current hip-hop and pop to cover such old-school classics as “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Lady Marmalade.”

Ultimately, the perfunctory plot complications take a backseat to music, music and more music, the true raison d’être of the series. First-time feature director Elizabeth Banks (who also again plays irreverent, preening commentator Gail alongside the equally hilarious John Michael Higgins) stages the wide-ranging musical renditions with high energy, though moviegoers from an older demographic won’t recognize some of the song choices.

Some of the Bellas on the movie’s poster barely register as characters, and others are reduced to a single joke: the very soft-spoken but weirdly intense Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) and new member Flo (Chrissie Fit), a Central American transfer student brimming with personal horror stories. Along with the talented and engaging Steinfeld, a very welcome addition is comic Keegan-Michael Key, who steals his few scenes as the highly demanding head of the record label where Beca interns.

All in all, Pitch Perfect 2 is far from perfect, but still potent.

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