“Pitch Perfect 2” Movie Review

     I’m not sure it was really necessary to produce a sequel to the 2012 sleeper hit “Pitch Perfect”, since the film could easily stand on its own and really played like a one hit wonder rather than a story that had the merits of a franchise.  But what do I know?  Making her feature film directorial debut with “Pitch Perfect 2”, Elizabeth Banks does her best to recreate the vibe that made the original film a surprisingly good time.  As we know; however, movies, regardless of how good their predecessors were, always start with a good script and screenwriters Kay Cannon and Mickey Rapkin, returning for the second time around, are unable to put together anything meaningful or entertaining outside of the film’s nine musical sequences.  In essence, “Pitch Perfect 2” is very much along the lines of the story telling we endured in “The Hangover 2” in that the story line is simply recycled in a different, yet similar setting.

     “Pitch Perfect 2” opens with a musical number performed by the Barden Bellas during another collegiate “a capella” competition.  A mishap that occurs, which the film’s trailer gives away, has Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy character flying above stage in a harness that somehow gets tangled, causing her pants to split and the audience being now privy to the horrific fact she goes “commando”.  The scene is played as though it’s a major embarrassment (because so many people tune in for “a capella” competitions?), especially since this performance happened to be attended by President Obama himself.  The college and the governing body for their competitions decides to ban the Bellas from competition and with the core group now in their senior years, the group seems to be finished for good.

     Enter the standard plot device for a sequel of this nature: the new character.  Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) has just arrived for her Freshman year and because her mother, Katherine Junk (Katey Sagal), was a famous Bella herself, she has her sights set on an immediate audition.  With the news of the group’s embarrassment looming all over campus, as well as their ban from competition, there’s only one logical solution.  Compete internationally against the best from every country!  Along the way, the group shows up and performs in an underground singing  face off put together by some rich weirdo in a bathrobe played by David Cross.  There they meet the group who will become their arch nemesis for the remainder of the film, the European champion Das Sound Machine, a collection of goth clad caricatures who look like this film’s equivalent to the Globo Gym team in “Dodgeball”.  What’s so unintentionally hilarious is how all of these characters take their rivalries so seriously.  You’d think they were preparing for a fight in the UFC.

     As the story meanders its way between musical numbers, we get a series of scenes that play just like every other teen comedy we’ve seen in recent times.  There are on again off again relationships, in fighting amongst the group, and even some debate as to whether what they’re doing is even the right approach anymore.  Beca (Anna Kendrick), the group’s leader has already been planning her post Bella future with an internship at a record label, a venture she has kept secret from her fellow teammates.  Oddly enough, the story focuses on the notion that maybe the group should stray from the norm and perform original songs instead of doing covers of already established hits.  The filmmakers might’ve been on to something if they had explored this more, but the bickering and whining within the group leads them to a completely unneeded sequence at a team building retreat they may as well been left on the cutting room floor.

     Because all of this seems designed to lead to a very predictable outcome, the third act has absolutely no surprises for the audience.  I mean,  you knew Rocky wasn’t going to lose right?  Do you actually think Banks and her team would want to explore the learning experience that comes from failing?  Maybe that’s a task for the inevitable third installment, but there were no chances taken here.  Banks proves perfectly capable with her directing duties and delivers several notable sequences within the musical realm, though again the script doesn’t give her much to work with on the dramatic side. 

     Aside from the recurrent use of Rebel Wilson’s girth as a joke, the comedic aspect of the film is supplied mainly by Banks herself, who along with John Michael Higgins, are the hosts of a podcast that cover the “a capella" scene with a rather distasteful style.  A smaller role for “Key and Peele” star Keegan-Michael Key is largely ineffective, as is a forced scene involving Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (though I’m sure Packers fans will get a kick out of it.).  For all of the high energy musical scenes in the film, there are equal parts that have a very similar feel to not only the first film, but also the spate of teen comedies we have been watching for decades.  Because of this, the characters barely develop any further from the first film, leaving them in generally the same place they started and seemingly no more prepared for life ahead then they were three years ago. GRADE: C