Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) / Comedy-Musical

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for innuendo and language
Running Time: 115 min.

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Ben Platt, Keegan-Michael Kay, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Flula Borg, Katey Sagal, Anna Camp, Ester Dean, Alexis Knapp, Hana Mae Lee, Chrissie Fit, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks, David Cross, Shawn Carter Peterson
Small role: John Hodgman, Jason Jones, Joe Lo Truglio, Reggie Watts, Snoop Dogg, Clay Matthews, Kay Cannon, Natalie Morales, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, Rosie O'Donnell, Rosie Perez, Adam Levin, Christina Aguilera, Pharrell Williams, Blake Shelton, Robin Roberts
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Screenplay: Kay Cannon (based on a book by Mickey Rapkin)

Review published June 5, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2 takes place three years after the events of 2012's Pitch Perfect, with Beca and a few of the other girls in her competitive a capella singing group, The Bellas, entering into their senior year at Barden University.  Beca (Kendrick, The Last Five Years) is getting ready to continue her progress in the music industry post-college by taking an internship with a talented record producer (Key, Tomorrowland), while also trying to juggle school (not that we ever see it) and duties in the Bellas, along with her romantic life. 

The hot-streaking Bellas suffer a bit of a setback when a wardrobe malfunction sees Fat Amy (Wilson, The Secret of the Tomb) showing her hoo-hah to the viewing audience at Lincoln Center, including President Barack Obama, which garners them national embarrassment, and a decree from the dean of the university that their group will be dissolved at the end of the year, unless they save face by securing the World Championship A Capella Competition in Denmark, where an American team has yet to win, especially against the defending champs, Germany's cocky Das Sound Machine.

Pitch Perfect had been a modest hit in the theaters, but really took off to repeat viewings among the teen girl demographic when it became available to buy or stream at home, where it became a fan favorite to watch and sing along with multiple times, much in the same way that Bring It On had done for the previous decade.  The first film wasn't a calculated success so much as a bunch of ingredients tossed together without a recipe that somehow managed to emerges as a tasty dish.  This effort seeks to recreate that meal with most of the same ingredients, but doesn't manage to get the right balance, resulting in a concoction that tastes a little off.

Unable to best the first film in original, politically incorrect, and brazenly quirky humor, Elizabeth Banks (Mockingjay Pt. 1, Walk of Shame), a co-star who takes over the director's chair for the first time, is content to merely try to hold the fort down tonally, riding the formula set forth by the original without coloring anything outside of the lines previously set.  As such, it's a timid, safe-feeling effort that neither has the big laughs of Pitch Perfect, nor will it likely put off the fan base who are willing to see characters they've come to know and like one more time, not expecting anything more than a pleasant diversion.  Characters without much depth in the first film are even more one-note in this update, merely there to provide a laugh line periodically where they basically repeat the same joke multiple times.

Lots of it is pretty stupid stuff that makes little sense, as it was with its predecessor, but that film had more of a sense of tongue-in-cheek camp that this film tries for, but never quite owns.  As such, Banks is unable to keep some of the plotting from seeming lazy and too silly to buy, including a central a capella showdown that has several teams of singers, including members of the Green Bay Packers (?!), singing improvised songs nearly perfectly without missing a beat.  The same can be said for the egregiously forced finale, whereby we see the girls put on quite a spectacle, singing sings and performing dance moves they're never shown rehearsing at any point prior to their big night in Denmark.

Obviously, with the major commercial success of this sequel, a third film is already greenlit by Universal, which means we will see the Barden Bellas at least one more time, even though one would gather, given most of them will be graduating, that newcomer Hailee Steinfeld (The Homesman, 3 Days to Kill), who plays a legacy with her own original songwriting talent, will likely be the new star, with the rest perhaps only relegated to smaller roles and cameos.  Hopefully the newer cast will be more rounded, rather than the same collection of stereotypically ethnic or sexual persuasion references that merely get trotted out whenever the film needs a joke line.

Though fun in spots, Pitch Perfect 2 has several major problems that keep me from a recommendation.  First, it's not amusing enough.  Despite Kay Cannon returning as screenwriter, the laughs still seem absent; the comic timing of director Jason Moore is sorely missed.  Second, it's not as brash or edgy as the first film; no characters make snow angels in vomit in this one.  Third, it's under two hours, but it sure feels like a three-hour film.  Though only three minutes longer than its predecessor, Pitch Perfect 2 grows increasingly fatiguing as it runs, possibly because there is virtually no plot.  It's all sitcom side stories and distraction, such as Beca's job, Fat Amy's potential romance with Bumper (DeVine, Workaholics), Emily trying to fit in (and Benji's (Platt, Ricki & the Flash) inability to muster the right words to ask her out), and a few other threads even less interesting than these yawn-inducing ones.  Perhaps in the course of a season of a TV show, such diversions could be mildly interesting, especially with more time to develop character, but without caring for any of them, and when the humor feels forced most of the time, the tedium becomes suffocating.

One more minor nitpick: the product placement for such things as Cover Girl and Pantene, among many others, is obvious and a bit pushy.

If you're a huge fan of the first film, you'll probably be more forgiving of Pitch Perfect 2, as it does feature most of the same characters, and does offer a host of new fun songs to see performed in well-choreographed fashion (even when there is no rehearsal).  However, for someone like me, who was won over by the first Pitch Perfect due to its ability to mock itself and its genre from inside out, the lack of capturing that saucy tone makes its many flaws stand out so much more, to the point where I groaned with each successive scene after the first hour that delayed the inevitable showdown in Copenhagen.  If the first film was a catchy pop tune, this one's like a cover that's done by someone singing the same notes off key.

- There is an extra scene midway through the end credits.

Qwipster's rating:

2015 Vince Leo