‘Pitch Perfect 2’ Review: Good Sequel, But Not Perfect

'Pitch Perfect 2'

Movie Rating:

3

‘Pitch Perfect’ was a little comedy that could. It arrived with no expectations, performed better than anticipated, and then gradually built up a cult audience of fans who couldn’t believe they were watching the movie in the first place. The sequel is a bit shaggier and far less focused, but it’s almost as funny. In the tricky-dicky world of comedy sequels, that’s just enough to make this encore a success.

The film kicks off with the Barden Bellas performing a massive a cappella number for President Obama (appearing via stock footage) that goes disastrously wrong once Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) tears her pants and puts her most private of areas on display for the world to see. Next thing you know, the Bellas are banned from performing on the college a cappella circuit (say what?!), but they’re still eligible for the world championship. So, they’ve got something to build towards as they learn to be a team again and fight off an evil German a cappella group.

Meanwhile, Beca (Anna Kendrick) has started interning for an insane record producer (Keegan-Michael Key). Chloe (Brittany Snow) is struggling to accept that she’ll have to move on after college. Amy and Bumper’s (Adam DeVine) hook-ups are heating up. David Cross invites the Bellas to a secret underground a cappella competition. Hailee Steinfeld joins the group as a new recruit, and a bunch of other stuff happens. As you might have noticed, that’s a hell of a lot of plot to cover in one comedy. That’s not even including all the one-joke side characters, training montages, music performances, love interests, and the welcome return of the nutcase announcers played by John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (who also directs this time).

While the first ‘Pitch Perfect’ succeeded by sticking to the college competition underdog clichés for knowing laughs, the sequel wants to be several movies at once. It’s attempting to be a bigger-is-better sequel/remake, an introduction to a new generation of Bellas, a movie about moving on, a self-conscious sequel send-up, and a showcase for its diverse cast of comedy stars all at once. There’s very little focus to the screenplay by returning ’30 Rock’ veteran Kay Cannon, and given all the awkward ADR linking scenes, it’s clear there was an even longer and less focused cut of the movie at one point. It feels like no one ever quite settled on what this sequel would be and rushed it into production with a half-finished screenplay that was then expanded further through improvisation. Characters disappear and reappear at will and there’s very little in the narrative that satisfies. It’s all kind of a mess.

And yet, the laughs, music and charm of ‘Pitch Perfect’ are all here. Whatever skills Banks may lack as storyteller, she more than makes up for as a comedian wrangler. There’s not a single actor in the cast who doesn’t score at least one big laugh and the biggest talents get plenty. Rebel Wilson gets even more screen time this go around and her unshakable confidence and oddball timing get the biggest chuckles (especially when partnered with Adam Devine for all sorts of surreal filth). Anna Kendrick ditches her indie kid shtick from the last movie to become a pint-sized version of Tina Fey. Keegan-Michael Key steals huge sections of the movie away from everyone as a sociopath record executive. John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks sneak in all sorts of subversion as the announcers, and a handful of comedian/celebrity cameos deliver rather than distract. That’s a metric fuckton of comedy talent crammed into this sequel, and Banks knows exactly how to make the most of it.

Toss in a handful of the delightful a cappella remixes that charmed the pants off ‘Pitch Perfect’ fans last time and you’ve got a satisfying sequel that succeeds despite all of its lumps and missteps.

Considering that the plot of the first movie left virtually nowhere for the filmmakers to go this time, you can’t exactly blame anyone for never quite settling on a single narrative. This isn’t really a movie about making a message or moving viewers through emotional arcs anyway. It’s a bright, colorful entertainment factory and a work of pure fan service that delivers on all the levels that it wants to. Despite the cult success of ‘Pitch Perfect’, it’s not as if expectations were going to run too high for this flick. The franchise is still an underdog, and a shaggy charmer of a sequel feels entirely appropriate. Dipping back into the ‘Pitch Perfect’ well another time after this would likely spoil everything, but Banks and company get away with this episodic goof-off just fine. In and of itself, that’s an impressive achievement. There shouldn’t even be one a cappella college comedy worth watching, never mind two.

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