[Screen It]


(2015) (Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson) (PG-13)

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Musical Comedy: A disgraced college a cappella group seeks redemption by competing at an international singing competition.
The Bellas have won three consecutive college a cappella singing championships and have been invited to perform for President and Mrs. Obama at the Kennedy Center. But a mishap involving Fat Amy (REBEL WILSON) accidentally exposing herself during the live, televised performance brings shame on the group, resulting it being prohibited from further competition on the Aca-Circuit. Its members are distraught, including headstrong leader Beca (ANNA KENDRICK); her scared-to-graduate friend, Chloe (BRITTANY SNOW); new recruit Emily (HAILEE STEINFELD); big-voiced lesbian, Cynthia (ESTER DEAN); small-voiced Asian, Lilly (HANA MAE LEE); and quirky Latina, Flo (CHRISSIE FIT).

To redeem themselves and preserve the group's future, they enter an international a capella competition set for after graduation in Copenhagen where they will face stiff competition from a seemingly unbeatable German group called Das Sound Machine, headed by the cocky Kommissar (BIRGITTE HJORT SORENSEN) and the supremely snide Pieter (FLULA BORG). Beca's boyfriend, Jesse (SKYLAR ASTIN), remains supportive even as she struggles to juggle the group, her college studies, and a new internship with a demanding music producer (KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY). Bumper (ADAM DeVINE), the Bellas' nemesis from the first film, has mellowed and is now firmly committed to a future with Fat Amy. And Emily has attracted the romantic attentions of the sweet, but hopelessly nervous Benji (BEN PLATT).

Throughout the film, a capella TV hosts John (JOHN MICHAEL HIGGINS) and Gail (ELIZABETH BANKS) offer a running commentary on the Bellas struggles to get their groove back and find a new sound. The group eventually enlists the help of a former group member, Aubrey (ANNA CAMP), who now runs a retreat where companies take their employee to recharge their batteries and seek motivation.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
There's a heart-breaking moment in "Boyhood" where the lead kid, Mason, turns to his dad and hits him with the question, "There's no real magic in the world, right?" Mason has reached that age where he no longer believes in elves and fairies and such, and he now sees superheroes and Jedi Knights as just fictional characters and not people he could actually be when he grew up. Ethan Hawk's dad then gives him a great answer -- better than what I could come up with on the fly if my 10-year-old hit me with the same query, I tell ya -- in which he likens whales as even more mythic than anything in old storybooks and big-budget Hollywood movies.

And I kind of got what he was saying. Magic and magical powers are really just a matter of perspective sometimes. I, for one, have always seen singing as something of a freakish, way-cool, and coveted ability. Especially something like opera singing or gospel singing. The sounds that can come out of some human beings' mouths is just awe-inspiring at times. Some people can even hit notes that can break glasses or cause some people's ear drums to quiver in pain. That's pretty powerful. I can carry a tune just OK in the shower or the car. But no one would really want to listen to me. But real singers? They're something else.

Sometimes, I am an easy mark when it comes to big-screen movie musicals. Most movies in this niche are not really films you can apply the usual film criticism, too. They're not really movies, per se, but more like entertainments. The first "Pitch Perfect" was a sleeper hit at the box office that went on to become a bona fide phenomenon on DVD, Blu-Ray, pay-per-view, and cable TV. The sequel tries to build off of that success with mixed results. As a structured film, it's not very good. As a showcase of voices, dance numbers, and just shear "Let us entertain you!" spectacle, it delivers. I'm giving it a mild recommend (keep in mind, I'm also coming off of the putrid "Hot Pursuit" and the almost unwatchable "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2" ... so I'm a double easy mark on this one).

Pretty much everyone returns from the first film, including Anna Kendrick as Beca, the de facto leader of the all-female Bellas a capella group. In the first film, they won their college singing championship despite fielding a team of misfits that include the larger-than-life, love-me-or-leave-me Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson); the wound-up, supremely tense Chloe (Brittany Snow); big-talking lesbian Cynthia (Ester Dean); and small-voiced, Asian coed Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) along with their assorted boyfriends, admirers, and rivals. Into the mix this time, director Elizabeth Banks throws in new recruit Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) and a rival, seemingly unbeatable German a cappella group called Das Sound Machine -- think Nazis crossed with Terminators crossed with "Chorus Line" singers.

An uproarious opening sequence in which the Bellas perform live for President and Mrs. Obama and Fat Amy ends up having a serious wardrobe malfunction that results in "Muffgate." From there, the Bellas become a national disgrace whose only hope is to win an international a cappella competition or have their charter forever revoked. Once again, Banks and John Michael Higgins provide running (and politically incorrect) commentary as the singing circuit's top play-by-play and color commentating team.

The first "Pitch Perfect" was aimed at an older high-school/college demographic along with anyone who watches every season of "The Voice," "American Idol," "America's Got Talent," and umpteen other TV performing shows. But a funny thing happened as the film went from the theaters to home viewing. Tweens and elementary-schoolers caught its vibe. It became one of the weirdest family films out there. The sequel suffers a bit from having to stay true to its roots, but not get too raunchy or too profane for the new younger set that is going to propel the box office to what could be big totals that may dwarf the original.

So, while Banks' Gail and Higgins' John still toss around sexist observations and more than a few offensive digs at various minorities and Fat Amy still has the sex drive of a feral minx, there is less of a college campus comedy vibe to this follow-up. The characters barely spend any time on campus at all, in fact, and certainly no time in an actual class or bed-hopping at the local dorms and frat houses. "Pitch Perfect 2" is more interested in getting from big set piece to big set piece and showcasing a ton of cameos from Snoop Dogg to "The View" co-hosts to the Green Bay Packers. And the Bellas' parents are nowhere to be found. Even Beca had friction with her dad in the first flick. Here, despite some being in danger of not graduating for placing too much time and focus on the singing, moms and dads are as present as in a Charlie Brown cartoon.

Fortunately, the big set pieces all work, for the most part. There is a kooky "sing-off" in the basement of a millionaire a cappella fan (David Cross) that almost threatens to be better than the climactic contest in Copenhagen. I also liked the Bellas going on a retreat to find their voice again and being put through a "Stripes"-like boot camp by a former Bella. And a subplot involving Beca trying to please a demanding boss (Keegan-Michael Key, who needs his own movie pronto!) could have been expanded and made its own movie.

As with the "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and, really, many sequels, "Pitch Perfect 2" throws a lot at the canvas and a fair amount of it sticks ... enough for me to give a mild recommendation for casual fans and an enthusiastic "go-see-it" to those who just wanna see their pitches back on the big screen. In the end, I rate it a 5.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed May 12, 2015 / Posted May 15, 2015

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