‘Pitch Perfect 2’ has a lot to live up toSection 4A, Movie Review Thursday, May 14th, 2015
One of the reasons that the college a cappella competition comedy Pitch Perfect succeeded so well three years ago was that it was a huge surprise: the little film that seemed to be surfing on the success of TV’s Glee was actually really funny, really entertaining and really well made. Expectations were low; experiences were great. The sequel has our goodwill but it also has a lot to live up to, and despite everyone trying very hard, Pitch Perfect 2 just can’t reproduce that shocking lightning strike from 2012.
The second film more or less has the same plot as the first film. Our heroes the Barden College Bellas fail miserably after years of success and have to overcome many challenges, dastardly rivals and an iffy new recruit to reclaim their stature. In the first film, the recruit was Becca (Anna Kendrick), a sullen hipster who became the group’s star arranger. In the sequel, she is a key member but wants to move on from college and is secretly interning for a music producer (Keegan-Michael Key). The new recruit is Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), a goofy freshman whose mother was a star of the Bellas in the early 1980s and who is a secret songwriting talent.
The latest big disaster the Bellas must recover from is an accidentally profane performance at the Kennedy Center in front of the Obamas that becomes a national scandal. The only way they can stop from being forcibly disbanded is if the Bellas win the international a cappella competition that no American team has ever won before. The favorites are the German team Das Sound Machine (led by the brilliant duo of Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Flula Borg), a collective of avant garde dancers and accented singers who, honestly, are much more interesting than the Bellas, and certainly funnier. But they’re Germans, so they’re evil, in a weird retro way.
The plot goes much the way you’d expect from a competition comedy set among college kids. There are two romances, one between Emily and dorky Benji and the other between the first film’s breakout star Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy and the annoying yet endearing Bumper (Adam DeVine). Neither are particularly engaging, despite Wilson and DeVine’s obvious comic skills. Becca’s internship subplot is similarly lackluster. Much of this is the fault of screenwriter Kay Cannon who can pen a one-line zinger but is not as skillful at fully realized, emotionally believable scenes. Her reliance on race-based humor is a bigger problem; many of the jokes are just distractingly racist, deadening otherwise good scenes. That said, some of the other jokes are very funny and work. Still others fall flat because of weird timing or odd editing, and that is first-time director Elizabeth Banks’ fault.
While she flubs some of the comedy, Banks and the brilliant choreographer Aakomon Jones craft some thrilling musical numbers. The Bellas specialize in the mash-ups of pop songs, and these are arranged and sung nicely, giving many in the group solos and showcasing some sweet, ingenious movements. As I mentioned above, however, Das Sound Machine’s numbers are even better. The outrageous cross between effete Sprockets style, Madonna’s 1990s tour styles and hyperbolic songs by Muse and Fall Out Boy made my jaw drop in the theater. I doubt they’ll do another sequel, but if they do, I hope it’s all about Das Sound Machine.
Pitch Perfect 2
Directed by Elizabeth Banks
Written by Kay Cannon
Starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and Hailee Steinfeld
Opens at your local multiplex May 15
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