Review: 'Pitch Perfect 2' Tries To Cover the Original But Ends Up Flat
by Jeremy Kirk
May 18, 2015
The Barden Bellas are back, and they're at it again. By "it," I'm referring to performing the most popular musical hits in the world acappella style, something the Bellas know quite a bit about. I'm also referring to the comedy found in Pitch Perfect 2, the sequel to 2012's surprise hit, which chooses to cover just about every joke made in that previous film. Overlong, oddly paced, and sometimes downright ugly, it's the latest example of Hollywood's attempt to catch lightning twice in a bottle. As with so many comedy failures in the past, Pitch Perfect 2 uses the same techniques to catch the same lightning. They even use the same bottle.
In Pitch Perfect 2, it's three years on from the current team of Bellas coming together, all the girls now seniors at Barden University. After a particular incident that results in "Fat" Amy, once again played by Rebel Wilson, flashing President Obama, the group finds themselves suspended from all further competition. Their only hope is in winning an international competition, one that a German group seems to have all but locked down. If you think this series is above making the obvious David Hasselhoff joke when it comes to German and music, you'd be wrong.
You may be wrong about a lot of things pertaining to Pitch Perfect 2, a Hollywood sequel that was all but inevitable after the first film completely stunned audiences with its effortless, irreverent humor and colorful characters. All of that still applies this second time out. Don't worry about the blueprint of a Pitch Perfect movie. That's there. It's unfortunate, then, that Pitch Perfect 2 takes a heavy breather on those laurels that made its predecessor such a success.
It's an obvious model when it comes to comedy sequels in the Hollywood, film industry – take what worked the first time out and do that again and again, actual results be damned. This has become such a cliché in the industry that we have movies like 22 Jump Street blatantly pointing out all that is wrong with this model. Evidently, the people behind Pitch Perfect 2 didn't see that movie. They would be screenwriter Kay Cannon, returning to this world she originally adapted from Mickey Rapkin's non-fiction book, and Elizabeth Banks, returning to the role of the elitist commentator, Gail Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberg, as well as taking the spot as the film's director. Banks makes her feature directing debut with Pitch Perfect 2, and, unfortunately, it isn't an effort worth complimenting.
Cannon's screenplay hits all the familiar beats, plays all the recognizable tones, and goes through all the first film's routine moves. However, Banks' direction doesn't add much, her comedic timing for visual gags worth mentioning but no more or less important than it was the first time around. Neither of them give their characters much to do.
Beca, once again played by Anna Kendrick, seems to be the only character thinking about her future. While the other girls are focusing on their acappella futures, Beca splits her time interning for a top-notch record producer. This subplot, while being the only, real, dramatic change for any of the Bellas, adds very little to the overall story. The conflict it sets up between Beca and Brittany Snow's Chloe, the die-hard member of the group, is of the I-have-a-secret-and-I'm-not-telling-anyone ilk. It's the kind of drama sitcoms make up on the spot, their solutions incredibly easy to predict.
All of the performers fit back into their respective roles with ease. Rebel Wilson's Amy is once again the funniest, most interesting character of the bunch, the kind of performance and development that makes you forget she has the "Fat" moniker attached to her. Adam DeVine reprising his role as Bumper, Amy's is-he-or-isn't-he love interest and co-member of The Treblemakers, makes up the only other successfully comedic performance in the film.
Actress Hailee Steinfeld is the new addition as Emily, the latest legacy of a long family of Barden Bella, and her saccharine level of glee in becoming a member, herself, clashes with the rest of the film's attitude. It's the one element to Pitch Perfect 2 that doesn't feel like a paint-by-numbers retread even though she's kind of the fill-in for Kendrick's Freshman character from the original.
Put the banter between the commentating team – Banks' Gail and John Michael Higgins returning as the racially, sexually, and pretty much all around insensitive John Smith – on that retread list, as well. This time around it plays much more vulgar than edgy, with Higgins' lines less interesting than jokes with questionable taste. In fact they're not even jokes, really, but stereotypical observations the character makes all the while thinking he's being cute. None of it is cute any more. Here, it gets downright ugly.
Which is unfortunate for Pitch Perfect 2, a sequel that probably shouldn't exist for a movie that probably shouldn't have caught on as well as it did. The original Pitch Perfect was a shock but one who's success was justified by how funny, original, and witty it was. Of these, Pitch Perfect 2 goes for funny above all else. This would be fine if the jokes were fresh, but this level of mimicking is enough to give even a cover band chills.