Existing for no other reason than its 2012 predecessor proved to be a surprising hit for Universal, “Pitch Perfect 2” rolled into theaters this weekend without much on its mind other than making certain it hits the same high notes as the original movie.
Mostly, it does so but the humor goes broader — and flatter — and unlike the original film the strain shows in questionable maneuvers that don’t always pan out.
The young female audiences that loved “Pitch Perfect” happily embraced another a cappella comedy, taking in over $70 million gross, more than enough to justify a budget leap from $17 to $29 million.
As for guys, the sight of several actual Green Bay Packers including star linebacker Clay Matthews in an a cappella battle against the Barden Bellas will certainly give them pause. Hey, real men sing geek too.
Then there’s the Bellas’ new arch nemesis, a menacing German a cappella group, Das Sound Machine, lead by a statuesque Birgitte Bjort Sorensen (who’s actually a Dane), with her Nordic vibe strong enough to cause “sexual confusion” even for Anna Kendrick’s Beca.
Frankly though I liked “Pitch Perfect” better when it was an underdog movie the studio released on a wing-and-a-prayer. It doesn’t feel the same when the sequel comes strutting into the ring wearing a championship belt.
Perhaps aware of this, returning writer Kay Cannon slips a banana peel under the group right away when they bomb in a performance in front of President Obama and the first lady no less.
Their singing is pitch perfect all right, however Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) accidentally exposes her disdain for underwear in a scandal reported by the media as “Muffgate.” (This also gives you a fair idea of the humor in this new movie.)
So they get thrown off a championship tour by their college’s president backed up by those podcasting co-hosts, John (John Michael Higgins again trying to channel Fred Willard) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks, who produced the last film and makes her directing debut with this one).
So the movie has it both ways: The Bellas’ singing never is less than soundtrack album-ready, but they lose their mojo in gimmicky routines that feature lighted hula hoops and pyrotechnics which go predictably awry.
The movie is even more female-centric as the rivalry and romance between various Bellas and the college’s male singing group, The Treblemakers, barely get a mention. So the focus falls with much greater force on the Bellas, all living and working together now.
Meanwhile Oscar-nominee Hailee Steinfeld joins the cast as a new Bella named Emily along with actess/singer Katey Sagal as Emily’s mom. Another new addition is Flo (Chrissie Fit), a student from war-torn Central America who sees life as perpetually tragic.
The lone male newcomer who scores in a few scenes is Keegan-Michael Key, a record producer for whom Beca interns. In retrospect his subplot could’ve been expanded to make “PP2” feel like a real sequel instead of a tired remake.
On the music side, the songbook skews much younger and hipper with less oldies and more recent tunes as cover songs.
Banks certainly keeps things moving at a brisk pace but shows a certain tone deafness for lines and gags more likely to induce winces than laughs.
In any event, there’s no need for a “Pitch Perfect 3.”
Opens: May 15, 2015 (Universal Pictures)
Production companies: A Universal Pictures, Gold Circle Entertainment presentation of a Gold Circle Entertainment/Brownstone production
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Katey Sagal, Anna Camp, Ben Platt, Alexis Knapp, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Chrissie Fit, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Flula Borg, Kelley Jakle, Shelley Regner, John Hodgman, Jason Jones, Joe Lo Truglio, Reggie Watts, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks, Keegan-Michael Key, Shawn Carter Peterson, David Cross
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Screenwriter: Kay Cannon
Producers: Paul Brooks, Max Handelman, Elizabeth Banks
Executive producers: Scott Niemeyer, Jason Moore
Director of Photography: Jim Denault
Production designer: Toby Corbett
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Costume designer: Salvador Perez Jr.
Music director, vocal producer: Deke Sharon
Choreographer: Aakomon Jones
Editor: Craig Alpert
PG-13 rating, 115 minutes