ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

While performing for President and First Lady Obama (who are so obviously copy and pasted into the scene, you’d swear they were watching something else) at the Kennedy Center, the a cappella group Barden Bellas have a worst-case scenario come to life when Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) has a wardrobe malfunction that ends with her exposing the Commander in Chief. As a result, they are suspended from performing.

But a chance for redemption is made possible when group leader Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) discovers a loophole that still allows them to participate in the international competition, and makes a deal with the school that allows them to be reinstated if they win the competition. They face quite an uphill battle, though, when they learn that no American team has ever won.

I was late to the party for the first Pitch Perfect film, released back in 2012, but eventually got around to it due to all my friends raving about it. I did not share their enthusiasm. Not that it was a bad film; the music was great (the best part of the film), and the adorable Anna Kendrick is an extremely likeable screen presence. It’s just an overrated film that in the end had me feeling I would’ve been better off just looking up the catchy soundtrack.

Here we go once again with the obligatory sequel. Why? ‘Cause it was made for under $20 million and grossed back nearly $120 million. That’s exactly why.

I’ve mentioned before that comedy sequels are harder to successfully make than any other genre. It’s easier to expand a narrative’s mythology in the horror, action, sci-fi and fantasy genre. Not always, but more often than not, comedies tend to just go through the motions that made the first one good again. Pitch Perfect 2 falls into that rut. The Bellas stumble through yet another embarrassing incident, manage to bounce back, but then internal struggles threaten to tear them apart so they have to find their voice again (at, of all places, an a cappella boot camp), yada yada yada, all is right with the world.

The difference between this and its predecessor is it’s now the world competition the Bellas are competing in instead of the nationals, and now their rival is the German a cappella group Das Sound Machine, which conzists of ztereoteepical ztone-jawed Krauts zat allz talk like zis az zey go through a zeries of tired verbal face-offs witz ze Bellas.

Writer Kay Cannon returns to write the sequel, but this time it’s Elizabeth Banks in the director’s chair instead of Jason Moore, and their efforts here are less than desirable. It’s unfortunate ’cause Banks is an immensely talented actress, and it’s never a dumb move for actors to branch out into other areas of the filmmaking business ’cause sometimes it works out well for them (Brad Pitt and Mark Wahlberg have been successful as producers; Ben Affleck’s gained critical acclaim as a director). To her credit, this isn’t a train wreck, and God knows how easy it is for a comedy sequel to wipe out disastrously (Caddyshack II, Fletch Lives, Blues Brothers 2000, Dumb and Dumberer, The Whole Ten Yards, Evan Almighty, Horrible Bosses 2, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, any of the Police Academy movies). The way Banks lets the musical segments come to life at least shows there’s some potential within her that could grow with better material, but Cannon’s material – a series of rehashed comic beats with a string of bland subplots – doesn’t do her much favor, and has her in over her head trying to juggle it all.

Once in a while, the film scores a witty one-liner or an inspired bit. Keegan-Michael Key has a hilarious supporting role as the music producer (who “sleeps on a bed of Grammys” as he puts it) Beca interns for (which includes an equally funny cameo from a Christmas classics singing Snoop Dogg). It’s only a letdown ’cause it’s nothing more than just one of the many subplots when it probably would’ve made for a more interesting movie than what we got. And even though it really has no bearing on the plot, there’s an extended sing-off hosted by David Cross that features a nice cameo from a certain NFL team.

That said, there’s too many repetitive jokes of how sexually confused Kendrick’s Beca is, how horrible the Guatemalan Bella’s life was back home, and Fat Amy’s weight (I always appreciate someone with a self-deprecating humor, but is Rebel Wilson gonna be stuck in this one-note for her entire career?). The always funny John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks are back as the less funny versions of commentators you’d see in a Christopher Guest mockumentary, and a forced love interest subplot for Fat Amy seems to be there solely to give Wilson, whose breakout role was in the first film, more screen time.

Pitch Perfect 2 isn’t without its moments. The cast of Bellas have solid chemistry, Hailee Steinfeld’s a welcome addition (refreshingly playing someone a tad more upbeat than the two dour “daughters with daddy issues” roles she had last year in 3 Days to Kill and Begin Again) and the musical numbers pop with infectious fun. But the film loses most of its spark whenever the music stops, detouring down too many verbal beatdowns with a dull a cappella rival and forced character conflicts that feel like a series of unconnected story threads simply there to pad out its thin plot.

I give Pitch Perfect 2 a C (★★½).

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