“And there are the props”

A surprise hit from 2012, Pitch Perfect was more than hype. It was good. Good enough for a sequel? Sure. I was excited to see what might happen until the trailer dropped. Boy did that thing look like a train wreck attempt at capturing lightning in a bottle by mimicking the original with supposedly higher stakes (but really just bigger scale/budget). Why deal with a capella at a collegiate level again when you can expand internationally? Because small was a proven success, that’s why. It worked very, very well because it never over-stayed its welcome or drove its carefully sprinkled bits of political incorrectness into the ground as cringe comedy. Kay Cannon‘s adaptation of Mickey Rapkin‘s book was about finding yourself, accepting yourself as better than impossible stereotypes, and that nerds actually are cool.

Pitch Perfect 2 is about … the same thing. Literally the same thing only larger because while the entire main cast returns, Cannon decides to introduce a new character traveling the exact same trajectory Becca (Anna Kendrick) did in the first despite Becca repeating it in the professional arena here too. And yes, it plays as over-stuffed and redundant as that sounds because there’s no time to devote to either as more than dueling subplots tailor-made to converge onto a main story thread that itself can barely sustain a short film’s length let alone a feature. Not that all involved don’t desperately try pretending it can. In all honesty nothing that happens ever feels important because the simple fact this movie exists guarantees underdog success. We’re therefore meant to care about the journey instead.

I don’t mind this route since the Bellas striving to win the World Championships of A Cappela—a tournament that comes around once every four years—is a fine enough end game as long as the road there is entertaining and meaningful. It proves itself mostly worthy of the former adjective, but completely undeserving of the latter. The reasoning can be attributed to the ubiquitous curse of sequels where filmmakers latch onto what worked before by exploiting it and thusly refusing to understand why it worked in the first place. We laughed at the melting pot of co-eds and their myriad eccentricities because they were endearing, self-deprecating, and uproariously funny. This time around they are obnoxious, misplaced, and lazy. Seriously, who read Chrissie Fit‘s Flo and thought, “Aren’t her deadpan-delivered, horribly stereotyped experiences a riot?”

Everybody’s suddenly warped into caricatures of themselves despite starting as caricatures in the first place. Cannon is trying way too hard with Ester Dean‘s Cynthia Rose’s gay jokes and Alexis Knapp‘s Stacie’s overt sexuality—the latter’s bits coming without punch lines to render her antics as shallow as they appear at face value rather than with satire. Hana Mae Lee‘s Lilly is a shadow of her former self as the camera randomly points her way to highlight her disturbing whisperings. Only once does it come as a result of being prompted, though. She was funny in Pitch Perfect because her insanity would be contextually relevant albeit weird as answers to questions. What she said wasn’t as funny as when/why she said it. As for Brittany Snow‘s Chloe, she could be removed here without notice.

That leaves Becca, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), and the aforementioned freshman and Bella legacy (Katey Sagal‘s Mom is an alumnus) Emily (Hailee Steinfeld). Becca turns into the wet blanket of the group as she struggles to juggle her friends and potential career under the tutelage of Keegan-Michael Key‘s verbally abrasive record producer (another rendition of the same characterization he’s utilized since “MADtv”—one I’ve yet to tire of). Amy’s weight makes her a walking fat joke without the biting commentary or redeeming growth arc unless throwing a bone to Adam DeVine so he can earn a paycheck begging for her love counts. And Emily is too pure and too beholden to the fact she wrote a song to be much more than a pawn in the plot that provides the Bellas a fresh sound to rally around.

Everyone’s story is strung together like skits with guest stars masking the reality that there’s very little connecting them. The Treblemakers with Jesse (Skylar Astin) and Benji (Ben Platt) serve no purpose besides being love interests; cameos are alternately boring (Snoop Dogg), hilarious (Clay Matthews), and WTF (Robin Roberts?); and the main “rival” in Germany’s Das Sound Machine led by Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) and Pieter Krämer (the fantastic Flula Borg) proves a waste of potential. DSM could have broken this thing wide open with their stirring renditions of Muse and Fall Out Boy, but for some reason they never get to move into a cool mash-up. The only reasoning I can fathom is that first-time feature director Elizabeth Banks knew we’d never believe the Bellas could beat them. Their defeat would be tough to believe as is.

I blame the movie’s failures on Cannon because Banks can only do so much with a script that reads like a bad episode of “Saturday Night Live”. While the actors are game and seemingly fine with delivering watered-down versions of characters they made memorable only three years prior, the screen’s clogged by their sheer number with nowhere to go. An impromptu, stripped down competition like the drained pool is badly copied with flashing lights, “Family Feud” game boards, and David Cross as host. Real world problems faced by teens every day are pushed aside for easy jokes and put-downs that actually negate the sense of personal empowerment the original conjured. Even the music selection pales in comparison because the Bellas are floundering to find a style for a majority of its duration. Pitch Perfect 2 is a poorly realized cover song.

Score: 4/10 

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 115 minutes | Release Date: May 15th, 2015 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): Elizabeth Banks
Writer(s): Kay Cannon / Mickey Rapkin (characters)