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Dustin Putman

Pitch Perfect 2  (2015)
2½ Stars
Directed by Elizabeth Banks.
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Hailee Steinfeld, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Alexis Knapp, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Chrissie Fit, Ben Platt, Anna Camp, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, Keegan-Michael Key, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Flula Borg, Katey Sagal, Kelley Jakle, Shelley Regner, Shawn Carter Peterson, David Cross, John Hodgman, Jason Jones, Joe Lo Truglio, Reggie Watts, Brea Grant, Snoop Dogg, Clay Matthews, David Bakhtiari, Don Barclay, Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, Jordan Rodgers.
2015 – 115 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for innuendo and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, May 13, 2015.
2012's "Pitch Perfect" was a sleeper hit for good reason, a cheerful, tart-tongued pop explosion that kept the laughs, the music and the charisma coming for 112 brisk minutes. With an unconventional, independent-minded protagonist in Anna Kendrick's (2015's "The Last Five Years") university freshman Beca Mitchell, the film proved to be a whole lot of things rolled into one: a female-centric friendship comedy, a satiric quasi-musical about collegiate a cappella competitions, and the coming-of-age story of an ambitious young woman who finally learns to let her guard down when she happens upon a community of people who accept and value her. "Pitch Perfect" earned $113-million worldwide on a modest $17-million budget, but it found a larger, even more receptive audience when it hit home video. With its popularity growing and the original soundtrack (led by Kendrick's "Cups") going on to sell 1.2 million copies to date, it was a foregone conclusion that a sequel would be in the cards.

"Pitch Perfect 2" reunites the entire core cast of the original picture, while co-star Elizabeth Banks (2014's "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1") takes over the directorial reigns from Jason Moore. None of the above miss a beat sliding back into their roles, and the film, overall, retains much of its sly comedic bite. If the endlessly entertaining first movie didn't have a single slow moment, this one does, going slack in the pacing department on a few occasions as scenes meander about and overstay their welcome. The script by returning writer Kay Cannon is full of pert zingers and a number of unsuspectingly sweet moments, but in repeating most of the beats of its precursor the overall story and mood have lost a little of their freshness.

The Barden Bellas have been seemingly unstoppable collegiate a cappella champions for three years running, but their luck finally runs out when a Kennedy Center performance in front of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle goes horribly awry. Threatened with a suspension to compete, their only shot at being reinstated is to win the 2015 World A Cappella Championships in Copenhagen—a tall order since no American team has ever taken home the trophy. With senior year at Barden University underway for aspiring music producer Beca (Anna Kendrick), group leader Chloe (Brittany Snow), unfiltered Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and the rest of the girls, the Bellas agree to welcome inexperienced but talented freshman Emily Junk (Hailee Steinfeld)—a "legacy" whose mother, Katherine (Katey Segal), is a Bella alumna—into their fold. They have a lot of work to do if they hope to be a formidable opponent against German phenoms Das Sound Machine, and it doesn't help that Beca is just a little preoccupied with a demanding new recording studio internship that she hasn't yet told her friends about.

"Pitch Perfect 2" is a smart, brassy confection that stays true to the established world of its characters while preparing to send them off beyond the safety net of college. If change is looming in the near-distance for these ladies—a fact which has led Beca to seek out an internship, and one which three-time senior Chloe is having trouble admitting to herself—first they must come up with a surefire way to redeem the Bellas' tarnished reputation. Fortunately for everybody's schedules, no actual classes appear to take place at the magical Barden U. The scenes at Beca's job as she tries to display her talents in front of her record producer boss (Keegan-Michael Key) do not work as well as the ones outside the studio, but serve their purpose. Better is the general ongoing camaraderie of the Bellas and the musical performances from them and their competitors. A scene where they participate in a sing-off against Das Sound Machine, Barden's male group The Treblemakers, and the Green Bay Packers (yes, those Green Bay Packers) is spirited, buzzy and purely fun, while an interlude where the group hopes to get their mojo back by attending a team-building retreat where former Bella leader Aubrey (Anna Camp) now works strikes the right notes again and again. A campfire chat where they discuss their futures before erupting in a nostalgic sing-along to "Cups" is gentle and lovely. And, in the film's most adorably uproarious set-piece, Amy discovers it is difficult to simultaneously row a boat to shore and serenade Bumper (Adam DeVine) with Pat Benatar's romantic power ballad "We Belong."

In the first "Pitch Perfect," much of Beca's personal journey saw her gradually tearing down her defenses and learning to not be so quick to push people away who care about her. Her burgeoning romance with movie-loving Treblemaker member Jesse (Skylar Astin) contributed to the film's heart and dramatic stakes, leading to a third-act musical tribute where she performed Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" from "The Breakfast Club." Three years later, Beca and Jesse are still an item, although it is unfortunate the never-not-great Anna Kendrick and Skylar Astin (2013's "21 & Over") share so few scenes between them. With Beca and Jesse's relationship all but forgotten about by the halfway mark, the one between Fat Amy and Bumper builds in prominence as the story unfolds, leading to some winning moments in its own right. Rebel Wilson (2014's "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb") is rarely less than a standout, and her inspired work here is some of her best yet.

As the mysterious, mischievous, astoundingly quiet Lilly, Hana Mae Lee is a secret comic weapon who sneaks in and earns big laughs every time she whispers an out-there revelation about herself. Hailee Steinfeld (2014's "Hateship Loveship") makes her likable inaugural appearance in the series as freshman Emily, set up to carry the torch of the Bellas as all her teammates prepare to graduate. It is also nice to see Katey Sagal (TV's "Sons of Anarchy") pop up as Emily's supportive mother (and former Bella), Katherine, only getting a few scenes but effectively nurturing a nice bond with Steinfeld. And, as straight-shooting International Collegiate A Cappella commentators John Smith and Gail Abernathy-McKadden, John Michael Higgins (2012's "Big Miracle") and Elizabeth Banks are hilarious for every second they are on screen, tossing out off-color bon mots with unbridled abandon. A movie deserves to be made just about these two forces of nature.

"Pitch Perfect 2" climaxes at the 2015 World A Cappella Championships in Copenhagen. With pressures high and the very future of the group on the line, the Bellas have to slay the competition and wipe the stage with them if they hope to come out on top. It would be with great pleasure to say that their final all-important performance is a show-stopper that lives up to, and surpasses, the previous pic's a cappella mash-up finale, but instead it proves supremely, disappointingly underwhelming, the too-few songs poorly chosen and arranged. Whereas the ending performance in "Pitch Perfect" built to a rhythmic crescendo that brought down the house, here it concludes with an "is-that-all-there-is?" whimper. Do the Barden Bellas deserve to beat out Das Sound Machine based on this particular musical number? The honest answer, alas, is not as clear-cut as most viewers will be hoping. In segments like this one, "Pitch Perfect 2" could have used another tightening of the script and additional prep time to perfect what wasn't quite ready to go before the cameras. Fortunately, these bumps are few and far enough between that they do not impede the film's infectious qualities as a whole. All things considered, a lesser "Pitch Perfect" film is ultimately still brighter, funnier and more clever than most of today's studio comedies.
© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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