Rated PG-13 for innuendo and language.
Running time: 114 minutes.
Two and a half stars out of four.
Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.
A perky group of college a cappella singers suffers an embarrassing on-stage mishap, then fights to redeem itself and regain its former glory. Along the way, there’s a little romance, a lot of trash talk, an impromptu sing-off with rival groups, some bawdy moments from a brash supporting player and plenty of clueless commentary courtesy of an announcing duo that also serves as the film’s Greek chorus.
Yes, “Pitch Perfect 2” is pretty much the exact same movie as “Pitch Perfect.” In theory, this is great if you loved the original film, which became a sleeper hit in 2012. I loved the first “Pitch Perfect” so much, I gave it three and a half stars out of four, but much of what I loved about it was how refreshing it felt. It was cheeky and snarky and it pulled off the tricky feat of making us fall in love with the very thing it was making fun of. Its earnestness and exuberance were infectious in equal measure.
There is no single moment here that matches the ingenuity of Anna Kendrick’s “Cups” audition, no song that brings you to the verge of tears with its sheer beauty like her spontaneous shower duet with Brittany Snow to David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium.” The best scene in the entire movie is a rip-off of the best scene from the first movie: a riff-off with various other singing groups, filled with inspired cameos and organized by a delightfully odd David Cross.
“Pitch Perfect 2” has plenty of laughs scattered throughout, but it also struggles to regain that balance and that sense of breeziness. It runs out of steam somewhere in the middle and probably could have been a good, solid 20 minutes shorter. Making her feature directing debut, co-star and producer Elizabeth Banks stages the production numbers in brisk and entertaining fashion — it’s just the actual, cohesive story in between that tends to bog things down. (As in the first film, Kay Cannon wrote the script; mercifully, there seem to be fewer made-up words with aca- in front of them.)
One of the main problems with “Pitch Perfect 2” is that it marginalizes its star, the infinitely talented and adorable Kendrick. Beca’s arc from reluctant performer to driving creative force gave the first film momentum, and her romance with the charismatic Skylar Astin from the all-male a cappella group the Treblemakers provided a nice spark. She had attitude. She had an edge about her, which was a great change of pace for Kendrick compared to the good-girl, Type-A characters she’d mostly played. Here, she’s reduced to a supporting figure, and Astin is an afterthought in just a handful of scenes.
Rebel Wilson is the film’s star this time. Granted, “Pitch Perfect 2” remains an ensemble — and an ever-expanding one, at that — but Wilson was such a scene stealer last time as a brassy Aussie who nicknamed herself Fat Amy that she’s been given even more room to work her inappropriate comic shtick. As enjoyable as Wilson can be, she’s also rather one-note, and a little of her goes a long way.
Speaking of notes, the songs that the Barden Bellas and their competitors sing are even more polished and overproduced than ever, to the point that there’s an emotional disconnect. But things don’t go so well off the top. As reigning national a cappella champs, the Bellas have the honor of performing for President Obama and the first lady. But a wardrobe malfunction during a complicated maneuver by Fat Amy — which comes to be known as Muffgate, in an unfortunate bit of female body shaming — makes the ladies a laughingstock and costs them their title. (Once again, Banks and John Michael Higgins crop up as a Christopher Guest mockumentary-style broadcasting team to provide perspective through satirically sexist and racist remarks. Some of these are hilarious; others land with a thud.)
But! Through a loophole, the Bellas are still allowed to represent the United States at the world championships in Copenhagen. There, they will face a juggernaut German group called Das Sound Machine, which essentially consists of about 20 people doing that “Sprockets” bit from “Saturday Night Live” as they sing songs like “Insane in Ze Membrane.” Their leader is a gorgeous, blonde Teutonic stereotype (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) who repeatedly gets Beca giddy and tongue-tied.
Insecurity and skittishness, however, are not what this character is about. And so it’s also odd to see Beca scurrying off to a secret internship at a record company because she’s afraid to tell the Bellas and let them down — even though, you know, she and the other ladies are seniors now and should be thinking about their futures. (Then again, Bella co-leader Chloe, played once again by an enthusiastic Snow, has stayed in college for seven years because she’s so afraid of the real world.) The presence of comedian Keegan-Michael Key as Beca’s demanding but ultimately enlightening boss significantly improves this subplot, though.
But wait, there’s more. As part of Wilson’s larger role here, she also gets a more significant romance with Adam DeVine as the Treblemakers’ cocky former leader, including a bombastic duet which is pretty amusing. All the other supporting players from the first “Pitch Perfect” are back, including Hana Mae Lee with her absurd and nearly silent asides (a bit that was funnier the first time). And there’s a new recruit in freshman Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), a singer-songwriter and legacy whose mother (Katey Sagal in a barely-there part) was a legendary Bella more than 30 years ago.
Clearly, the stage is being set for “Pitch Perfect 3” — whether the world needs it or not.