Review: Pitch Perfect 2
Our beloved a capella group The Bellas are kicked out of a national tour after an unfortunate incident in front of the President of the United States. Not content to sit idly by, they decide to compete in an international singing competition, but a German supergroup stands in their way.
I didn't expect to like the first PITCH PERFECT all that much when I saw it three years ago, so I was surprised to find it was a likable, energetic comedy that didn't take its storyline or its characters too seriously. Heading into the second one, I felt like I knew what to expect - more of the same - and this time I was not surprised. PITCH PERFECT 2 is, like so many sequels, more or less a copy of its predecessor, although it ups the production value, noise, and joke dispersal twofold. If anything, it's even goofier and less concerned with plot than the first one, content to deliver what the audience wants: seemingly dozens of A capella "battles," a limitless amount of crude (but still PG-13) jokes, and an overall air of harmless fun meant to get your feet tapping.
The first film told a predictable "us against the world" story: a ragtag group of singers called The Bellas had to prove to their school - and of course themselves - that they could be a capella champions. This time around, we meet The Bellas at the very top of their game, performing for President Obama at a concert. Things quickly go awry, however, thanks to the gross antics of Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson, once again showing no shame) and the gang is knocked off their perch, forbidden to continue their national tour. This might be a blessing in disguise for Beca (Anna Kendrick), who is now interning for a major music producer (Keegan-Michael Key) in the hopes it kickstarts her career in the industry. But the rest of the gang is determined to, once again, prove their worth, and so they enter "the Worlds", a worldwide a capella competition taking place in Copenhagen. See, the sequel always has to go international.
Naturally, The Bellas have their work cut out for them. An obnoxious (and obnoxiously talented) German group called Das Sound Machine, populated by perfect physical specimens, takes over the national tour originally meant for them. Furthermore, DSM (as they're known to their apparent legion of fans) is determined to head to the Worlds to compete as well, setting up an inevitable showdown between the two disparate groups. If they're going to make the cut, The Bellas will have to learn how to work together all over again, which means practicing in a series of singing battles and partaking in numerous sisterly bonding moments. Montages abound...
At almost two hours, PITCH PERFECT 2 is certainly too long by at least 15 minutes, but it admirably maintains its peppy/kooky charm for most of the runtime. Quips fly fast and every scene moves along at a brisk pace; first-time director Elizabeth Banks (co-starring once again as commentator Gail) has enough experience in comedy to keep up the rhythm without exhausting us. Banks crafts a few very amusing set-pieces, including one highly enjoyable sequence that employs a bevy of notable cameos. It surely helps that she's inherited a very good cast; just as they proved in the first, these girls have comedic timing and acting chops. Their clear willingness to do or say just about anything for a laugh is nothing short of admirable.
It's a bit of a sloppy movie, though, filled with too many inconsequential subplots. (Unless Fat Amy's romance with Adam Devine's Bumper is something you're dying to see resolved.) Kendrick was clearly the lead in the first film, but here she's oddly been pushed to the sidelines, making PITCH PERFECT 2 much more of an ensemble piece than the first. An already crowded cast is padded when a new Bella is introduced, Emily, played by Hailee Steinfeld. A novice to these intense singing competitions, Emily is a very sweet character (and Steinfeld is quite good in the performance), but she's frankly unnecessary. It's obvious Banks and writer Kay Cannon felt the movie needed a fresh face to liven it up a little, but Emily is shoehorned into the proceedings somewhat clumsily.
What is sometimes a bit deflating about PITCH PERFECT 2 is the way its humor frequently sinks to propping up stereotypes. Listen, that sort of humor is fine when it's nailed, and also when it's parceled out, but this film uses any excuse to sneak in a low blow: Fat people, Asians, Germans, Guatemalans, Filipinos, gays - just to name a few groups - are each knocked early and often with the easiest possible stereotypical gags. For a franchise ostensibly about the joy of finding your niche in life, it's kind of strange to see such lazy (and, some might say, semi-offensive) humor deployed intermittently. I'm sure Banks and Co. mean it to be "all in good fun," since the film's personality is that of a chipper bestie who just loves teasing you, but there's a fine line between humor that's edgy and humor that's callous. This movie doesn't ride that line very carefully.
So it's a bit of a mess, but PITCH PERFECT 2 is still - for the most part - an entertaining crowd-pleaser. The main ingredients meant to make it work - the cast and the music - are well above average, and it does have an infectious, spirited attitude. I'm not necessarily singing its praises, just humming them a little.
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