Monday, June 01, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2 / *** (PG-13)

Beca: Anna Kendrick
Fat Amy: Rebel Wilson
Emily: Hailee Steinfeld
Chloe: Brittany Snow
Jesse: Skylar Astin
Bumper: Adam DeVine
Kommissar: Birgitte Hjort Sørensen
Pieter Krämer: Flula Borg
John: John Michael Higgins
Gail: Elizabeth Banks

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Elizabeth Banks. Written by Kay Cannon. Running time: 115 min. Rated PG-13 (for innuendo and language).

So when “Pitch Perfect” was released in theaters in 2012, I’m guessing I wasn’t alone in thinking, “Yeah, a movie about a cappella singing competitions? I’ll catch it at home if it gets good reviews.” The movie only made a little over $5 million on its opening weekend. Not exactly breaking the box office. Then people started talking about it, and word of mouth was that it was worth the admission price. By the end of the year it had netted over $68 million at the U.S. box office and was a huge hit on home video formats. A $5 million opening weekend isn’t supposed to do that.

With its snappy dialogue, great musical numbers and the introduction of Rebel Wilson as a fresh face in comedy, a “Pitch Perfect” sequel became inevitable. So here it is three years later, the girls who make up the musical group The Bellas are three years older, and the audience gets pretty much the same treatment for their encore. That’s what we’re paying for, so that isn’t a complaint. As a critic, it leaves little to discuss beyond the plot, but I enjoyed myself, so I’ll give it another whirl too.

The Bellas are now three time U.S. champions at the collegiate level and enjoying a tour of the country, including a performance for the POTUS. The entire group, who were freshmen at the beginning of the first film, is getting ready to graduate from Barden University. Well, Chloe (Brittany Snow, “Hairspray”) was a junior in the first film, if my math is correct, and has apparently had trouble moving on from the Bellas, so she flunked a few classes to stay in school. The screenplay just mentions this detail and doesn’t mine it for any worthwhile comedy. They kind of just float it out there to explain her presence.

Anyway, the POTUS performance doesn’t go so well. There’s an incident involving Fat Amy’s (Wilson) privates and the Bellas tour is canceled. They are suspended from any official activities and told they cannot hold auditions for new recruits; however if they can win the International Championship, which no American group has ever done, their privileges will be reinstated. If not, without the ability to recruit, they will cease to exist as a singing club. This is particularly threatening to their one new member, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”), who is accepted into the club via technicality as her mother was a former Bella.

Meanwhile, Beca (Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”) is the only Bella who seems to have any concerns about her life after college. She secretly takes an internship at a recording studio, where she runs into all of the clichés about the recording industry. Her boss is unique, however. Keegan-Michael Key (TV’s “Key and Peele”) puts a little twist on the boss who can’t be bothered to remember the intern’s name. He can’t remember anyone’s name. It’s a running gag that Key milks better than many could. When he’s contracted by Snoop Dog to record a Christmas album, is it any surprise that Beca knows just how to give it an original feel?

Of course, no competition movie is complete without a nemesis. This time that comes in the form of the German group Das Sound Machine. Hollywood’s German clichés abound as Das Sound Machine is lead by the dominatrix-inspired she-hulk known as Kommissar, who delights in belittling the Bellas, while Beca can’t seem to get any insults past Kommissar’s intimidation factor. Again this is a recurring motif that garners a good deal of laughs throughout the movie.

Like in the previous film we get a lot of bonding comedy, a few romantic laughs as most of the relationships established in the first film return. As for the men, it seems they didn’t make as much of an impression on me from the first film, since it took me a while to figure out who each of them were again. There are some pretty good laughs produced from Fat Amy’s on again/off again relationship with the previous film’s antagonist, Bumper (Adam DeVine). The announcers John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks) are back with their snarky and inappropriate commentary on most of the performances, although sometimes it seems they shouldn’t be covering the events they’re attending and they wield much more power over the Bellas than a pair of announcers should or would.

If I were to tally up scores “Pitch Perfect 2” would come in a little lower than the original. The musical numbers aren’t quite as impressive this time out and at times seem a little over-produced for the air of spontaneity in which they are often brought about. While Key does an excellent job selling the comedy of his harshly critical, name-forgetting music producer, I’m not sure I’d buy him for the real deal.  And the relationships between the members of the Bellas are more sketched out than fully formed, as they were in the first film. However, the second outing delivers on the laughs and it’s fun to return to the atmosphere created by director Elizabeth Banks and her cast.

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