Review: PITCH PERFECT 2 Pitches Right Down The Middle

Featured Critic; St. Louis, MO
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Review: PITCH PERFECT 2 Pitches Right Down The Middle
The Bellas are back, for more comedy wrapped up in singing, or vice versa, depending on your preference. 

As a movie, it's more of a fun night out at the theater than a stirring next chapter in the lives of these young women and their competitive college a cappella singing group. But, Pitch Perfect 2 has it where it counts: there's more singing, more performing, more gags, and the whole cast is back. The film seems to be saying that all things must come to an end, but wait! ....Not before it all happens again. 

Although I'm a bit hazy on the exact story of the first film (a very satisfying endeavor), Pitch Perfect 2's tale strikes me as more of a greatest hits replay than a bona fide next chapter. It feels more like an episode of television them the hotly anticipated event movie that it is. 

The film opens with the Bellas giving a command performance at Lincoln Center, with the U.S. President and his family in attendance. Something goes horribly, comedically, and embarrassingly wrong, and in one fell swoop everything the Bellas built up in the first film has come crashing down. With graduation looming, this a cappella singing sensation group is now suddenly on the outs. They've lost their sound - will they get it back so that they can take their final bow on a high note? 

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Pitch Perfect 2 is directed by Elizabeth Banks who is making her directorial debut here. As she's demonstrated in scores of previous acting roles, Banks is a proven comedian. Her own moments in the film, shared with John Michael Higgins once again, playing the hosts of an an apparently very well funded cappella podcast, are among the film's funniest moments. As a director, she's got plenty of room to grow.  But there is some promise here, in terms of comedy ensemble directing.

The multi-talented Anna Kendrick, back in the lead as the girl with the knack for mixing musical mash-ups, is not quite hitting all the right rhythm here. Her character, keenly aware of the looming end of college, takes an internship with a big time music producer, and then proceeds to feel badly about it and keep it a secret from her fellow Bellas. It's a weak story thread that in the end, knows just how weak it is. Rebel Wilson however, reprising her memorable Fat Amy with more screentime, has the bulk of the memorable laughs. 

But, on the whole, Pitch Perfect 2 just isn't quite funny enough. Or perhaps more accurately, it's just barely on the right side of funny enough. (The film's favorite joke, using "Pitches" in lieu of "Bitches," isn't in the film itself. It has, however, been run into the ground in its ad campaign.)

Sure, there are some memorable funny moments. Snoop Dogg singing traditional Christmas songs is unexpectedly odd, that's for sure. For my money, though, the sheer glut of singing throughout the movie, as decent as it can be, providing one appreciates American pop hits, didn't hold my attention like it should have. 

In the middle of the film, there's a prolonged sing-off sequence hosted by a flamboyant character played by David Cross. This dragged particularly, it's greatest suspense being what song will be sung next. Who will be eliminated in this contest, and in what order, isn't really much of a question. The story is predictable at every turn, so the burden is on the actors to perform, perform, perform (and they do), and the director to keep it moving fast enough that we don't notice (not quite). I suppose in that respect, Pitch Perfect 2 is in keeping with many a forgotten classic Hollywood musical. 

Everything ramps up to a major singing showdown event in Copenhagen. The music starts thumping, the lights cut the darkness! The German pain-in-the-neck opposition group, Das Sound Machine, an a cappella fishnet adorned Kraftwork for the Pitch Perfect generation, perform their final impressive number. Finally, it is the Bellas big moment. Which led me to wonder, why is it that they order of acts in these types of films always culminates in the order of the protagonist's greatest threat next to last, then finally the protagonist underdog, performing last (but rarely least)? 

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Via Hailee Steinfeld's newly inducted member of the group, who {gasp!} writes new material!, the movie manages to squeeze in a newly minted original tune amid all of the American Idol-ing of familiar pop hits. The song, "Flashlight", has a catchy hook and is featured prominently enough to make the film's point that "you can't be a cover act forever", but also screams, "Hit single, right here!!! Come on, people! Make me a hit!" All that's missing is the lyric, "Go to PitchPerfect2.com to download me now!" It's Kelly Clarkson-y enough that that might just take off, although it shouldn't hold out hope for a Best Original Song Oscar. 

It's said that 2012's Pitch Perfect has many, many ardent fans who have watched the film fifty-plus times. If someone has that kind of time on one's hands for watching a single movie ad nauseum, one could certainly do far worse that that film. 

In that regard, part 2 is likely to please those fans. It plays more squarely to a late teen girl demographic, as evidenced in its product placement, set sheet, and even the closing credits bonus scene, which itself IS a television excerpt. (Good thing they didn't opt to feature the just axed American Idol here... Oh, how the mighty have fallen...) 

Storywise, Pitch Perfect 2 is a completely unnecessary trip back to the same well as Pitch Perfect. (From a studio bean-counter's point of view, it's clearly a no-brainer.) The water's still good at times, but it's drying up quick. And it's hard to sing with a dry mouth.

Pitch Perfect 2 opens in multiplexes everywhere in the U.S. and elsewhere Friday, May 15, 2015.

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a cappellaAnna KendrickDavid CrossElizabeth BanksJohn Michael HiggensPitch PerfectPitch Perfect 2Rebel Wilsonsinging contestSnoop DoggThe VoiceKay CannonMickey RapkinHailee SteinfeldBrittany SnowComedyMusic

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