Pitch Perfect 2 will sate its target audience - though that audience may have trouble sharing the movie with casual comedy lovers.
Following three consecutive championship wins at the a cappella U.S. nationals, the Barden University Bellas are at the top of their game. Led by Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick), now in her senior year, and Chloe Beale (Brittany Snow), now in her fourth senior year, the Bellas put their lives on hold to travel across the country on a victory tour, with a stop at the Kennedy Center, where the group performs for President Barack Obama along with a crowd of influential a cappella lovers.
However, when an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction turns the beloved Bellas into a national disgrace (and viral video) the team is stripped of their eligibility to compete, banned from auditioning new members at Barden, and their remaining U.S. tour stops are given to a rival singing team from Germany: Das Sound Machine. Faced with harmonic dissonance and an uncertain future after graduation, the Bellas are given one final chance at redemption: set aside their differences and win at the global a cappella championship - where Das Sound Machine is heavily favored to take home the top prize.
The original Pitch Perfect, based on author Mickey Rapkin's true-story tale of three collegiate a cappella groups in Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory, was helmed by Broadway go-to director Jason Moore - and went on to earn the respect of a cappella fans, critics, and comedy lovers alike. The film was a cross-demographic hit - resulting in high expectations for its 2015 sequel. Marking the feature directorial debut of actor-turned filmmaker Elizabeth Banks, Pitch Perfect 2 delivers bigger musical numbers and zanier comedy beats - making it a must-see for die-hard fans of the original. Nevertheless, paper-thin character arcs hold the core plot back, turning the Pitch Perfect 2 story into a cliff-noted drama punctuated by electrifying musical sets. The result? Moviegoers who were surprised by their enjoyment of Pitch Perfect will likely be less enthusiastic about the second chapter.
Kay Cannon (30 Rock) returns to write the screenplay - producing a serviceable sequel story that finds means to bring back the main cast as well as confront the team with a new challenge to overcome. Where the original film blended romantic comedy, musical numbers, and a tale of self-discovery, Pitch Perfect 2 isn't as inspired - affording the core Bellas only minor development this round (much of which rehashes ideas from its predecessor) while relying on cheap laughs to fill time between a cappella performances. Still, moviegoers who are invested in the characters will, at the very least, find charming moments in the ongoing adventures of Beca, Chloe, and Fat Amy - even if there isn't as much substance.
Certain viewers will be glad to see support characters get more screen time but, instead of centering entirely on Beca, Pitch Perfect 2 sees Anna Kendrick sharing the spotlight with Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) who plays Emily Junk, a freshman and "legacy" Bella, eager for a place in the group. The pair offer worthwhile juxtaposition, given that Beca was a reluctant recruit three years back - and is now preparing to leave the Barden nest. Though, with so many core Bella team members set for graduation, Emily comes across as a key threequel seed rather than a fully-realized member of the current cast - despite a charming performance from Steinfeld - and Beca spends most of the film retreading ground that she had previously overcome in the first movie.
That said, even if Beca's character is less-defined this round, a side arc that sees the aspiring musician interning at a record label provides some of the film's biggest laughs. Thanks to a downright hilarious performance from Keegan-Michael Key (playing Beca's boss) and, by extension, Shawn Carter Peterson (as abused intern Dax). Key's energetic banter is a highlight, especially with Kendrick serving as his comedy "straight man," producing several amusing exchanges.
The rest of the cast is a hit-or-miss mix. Banks shows slightly less restraint than her predecessor, especially with regard to Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. Fat Amy was a standout in the original film, and Wilson brings sharp comedic timing and clever improv to the sequel - especially when partnered with Adam DeVine (Bumper) - but the character is reduced by familiar fat jokes that are more awkward than they are funny. Hana Mae Lee's Lilly Onakuramara is back with another set of bizarre one-liners whispered under her breath and the jokes land but the same cannot be said of Florencia "Flo" Fuentes (Chrissie Fit). Attempting to catch Onakuramara-like lighting twice, Fuentes is another one-off joke machine but, alternatively, the new Bella spouts on-the-nose (and unfunny) latin stereotypes.
Fortunately, a few more returning faces, Treblemakers Jesse Swanson (Skylar Astin) and Benji Applebaum (Ben Platt), new rivals Das Sound Machine led by Pieter Krämer (Flula Borg) and Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), as well as cameos from Katey Sagal, David Cross, Snoop Dogg, and members of the
[redacted], furnish keen instigators for the main Bella cast. In particular, the Das Sound Machine crew manages to pull double-duty: as a thematic mirror for the Bellas and genuinely entertaining a cappella performers.
Pitch Perfect 2 will sate its target audience - though that audience may have trouble sharing the movie with casual comedy lovers. It's a solid sequel that caters to the franchise's loyal viewership, as well as rockappella devotees, and a quality debut for Banks as a feature director. Yet, characters, stories, and comedic setup/payoff is not as refined this time - individual arcs have only fleeting impact on the overarching story - resulting in a movie that simply doesn't have the heart (or polished humor) of its predecessor.
Viewers who enjoyed Pitch Perfect for its biting wit, more than its slick musical mash-ups, will find the followup offers less cross-demographic appeal; instead, Pitcher Perfect 2 aims for a bigger and more outrageous experience (with an even better soundtrack) for established Bella groupies.
Pitch Perfect runs 115 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for innuendo and language. Now playing in theaters.
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