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Not Quite Perfect

 115 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed byElizabeth Banks
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson 
Pitch Perfect 2

In 2012, a relatively unheralded comedy, Pitch Perfect, after a decent but by no means spectacular theatrical run, became a monster hit on home video and ignited the careers of two of its key performers, Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson. There were many reasons for the film’s success, but among the foremost was the movie’s novelty. Pitch Perfect turned a pastime almost no one heard of or cared about, a cappella singing, into a competitive sport and applied all the standard sports clichés in a whole new way. Add to the mix some infectiously enjoyable musical numbers (especially the incredibly catchy “Cups” song), and the film took off with audiences.


Success of course breeds sequels, so we now have Pitch Perfect 2, with virtually the entire cast from the original movie, along with some snazzy new musical routines, including a original number for the finale that was written especially for the film (and undoubtedly in the hopes of snagging a Best Song Oscar nomination as well). Sadly, that new musical number, “Flashlight,” is one of the few fresh things in the sequel. That’s right, Pitch Perfect 2 is merely one in a long line of movie sequels that merely repeat (sometimes to the point of annoyance) the popular elements from the original movie.


Three years have passed since the original Pitch Perfect (both in real life and reel life), and the Barden Bellas are now three-time national champions. Their reign comes to an abrupt end when, during a command performance at Lincoln Center for the President and First Lady, a ripped leotard results in Fat Amy (Wilson) flashing the President. In the ensuing controversy, the Bellas are suspended and ordered to disband. Their only chance to remain accredited is to win the upcoming World Championships. That seems to be an impossible task, since the reigning champions are a German team called Das Sound Machine, who perform routines that look like Mr. Roboto but sound amazing.


Complicating matters even further is the fact that the Bellas’ best singer, Beca (Kendrick), is trying to pursue her own musical career and has landed a job as an intern for a record company. In her absence, the rest of the Bellas seem to fall apart, with dispirited routines and a disastrous public performance. And, with Beca on the sidelines, the movie’s focus shifts to Fat Amy, who has a much bigger role this time around.


If you’ve seen any sports movie in the last 50 years, you can pretty much predict what’s going to happen next. Of course, the original Pitch Perfect was also predictable, the difference being that applying sports clichés to the “world” of a cappella singing was something so novel that it was fascinating to see just how the clichés played out. This time around, audiences know when and how the clichés will appear, and they’re not nearly as entertaining. To make matters worse, the peppy announcers from the first movie, Elizabeth Banks (who also directed) and John Michael Higgins, are back, and he’s spouting even more sexist non sequiturs than before. What in the first movie stayed just on the right side of the line between offensiveness and humor is now cruder, less funny, and more cringe inducing than before.


Also more cringe inducing and less funny than the first go around is Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy. For some reason, screenwriter Kay Cannon felt that the very thought of an overweight woman having a sex life is hilarious and the more that Amy enjoys, sex the funnier it is. So, the script turns Amy into a complete nympho chasing after Bumper (Adam DeVine,), the former leader of the rival music group at Barden, the Treblemakers. I have no doubt that Rebel Wilson can carry a movie (much like Melissa McCarthy has), but her character here is a typical one-dimensional supporting comic character who is better in small doses than dominating the movie.


To complete the cringe worthy aspects of the movie, Pitch Perfect 2 falls back on the oldest trope in the book, the humorless Teutonic villains, whose leaders could have been the models for a Third Reich recruitment poster. The film has no idea how to generate any laughs from them other than having them butcher their lines so they sound like auditioners for a high school production of Hogan’s Heroes. Even allowing for literary license, it’s hard to see this group appealing to an audience, although their routines, like everyone else’s in the film, are well choreographed.


The one story element that actually is new is also the only good non-musical part of Pitch Perfect 2. Beca’s internship is rather bizarre, since her boss, the studio head (Keegan-Michael Key) is totally weird, but its offbeat play on the creative process is truly inspired. Also new, but by no means as effective, is the Bellas’ only current recruit, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld). Steinfeld’s talents are somewhat wasted here, but she’s in pitch perfect shape to star in the next sequel.


Fortunately for audiences, Pitch Perfect 2 has its musical numbers to fall back on. The film borrows the riff off concept from the first movie and wildly expands it (thanks to inspired cameos by David Cross and, believe it or not, members of the Green Bay Packers). But the film saves the best for last, the World Championships, at which the Bellas, Das Sound Machine, and various other competitors perform. The last 15 minutes or so of Pitch Perfect 2 is practically a concert video, but it has the energy and skill the rest of the movie generally lacks. Not surprisingly, the Barden Bellas go last, but, somewhat surprisingly, director Banks throws in a surprise during their performance that is quite effective, and, frankly made the difference in my ultimate review of the movie.


Pitch Pefect 2 is far from a perfect sequel. It largely cashes in on the creativity of its predecessor and puts the characters through pretty much the same routines. Fortunately, many of those routines are musical numbers, and as the popularity of concert tours by veteran bands demonstrates, audiences (and critics) never tire of seeing lively musical numbers. While the efforts involved in making this movie would have been better directed towards creating a stage version of the original, Pitch Perfect 2’s musical numbers alone are worth elevating it to a B flat.

Read other reviews of Pitch Perfect 2:


Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) on IMDb