Pitch Perfect 2 Review

The Pitches are back, and while the Bellas prove they've still got swagger, they lack the spark that made us really love them in the first place. The Barden Bellas have been ruling the world of collegiate a cappella since we last saw them, but with that success and the lack of Aubrey's stringent leadership the girls have gotten sloppy. They've lost their identity and can't get through a performance without some sort of catastrophe. Just as in the first one, the Bellas have to come together to after a very embarrassing display. Instead of projectile vomit, its muffgate at the Kennedy Center in front of the POTUS and FLOTUS. The girls not only get their victory tour taken from them after the snafu, but in order for the Bellas to redeem themselves and not be disbanded forever after their current season they have to win the World Championship in Copenhagen. The Chief competition comes in the form of: Das Sound Machine. They're a super slick group of juggernauts that make the Treblemakers look like tiny talentless human children. Seriously maybe its just their height, but they look much older than the Bellas, even super senior (she failed Russian Lit three times to stay a Bella) Chloe but they put on slick techno show with some powerhouse vocals.

All of the Bellas return in some capacity. Leading the pack is Anna Kendrick's Beca, who comes off more prickly than in the first outing. She's secretive, and utterly bitchy, trying to find her footing, not within the group or college this time, but at a recording studio she's managed to snag a coveted internship at. Although she manages to prove her worth by singing a Christmas carol mash-up with Snoop Dogg, she still has a long way to prove that she's more than a one trick pony. Her mash-up skills aren't going to be enough this time. We've seen that, anyone with a laptop can make or find dozens of them on youtube. As she tries to impress her prickly boss, the film should take its own advice and bring something new to the table rather than rehashing it's former material in a less awesome way.
Remember that great mash-up audition of Kelly Clarkson's "Since You've Been Gone" from the first one,followed up by the 2012 anthem "Cups"? Don't expect any of that this time around. As a part of their punishment the Bella's aren't allowed to recruit new members, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any auditions, there just isn't any fun in the one they do have. Instead you get an awkward cringe worthy single audition by Hailee Steinfield's Legacy Bella Emily. She doesn't have super mash-up skills to bring to the table, or even an amazing voice, but her mother (Katey Sagal) was a Bella, with makes her practically royalty and is enough to get her on the team. Unlike Beca's outsider vibe in the first one, Emily is so coltish she's hard to watch. Her one saving grace is the absolutely adorkable budding relationship she sparks with Treblemaker and magician Benji (Ben Platt).

Speaking of relationships, the one between Jesse (Skylar Astin) and Beca is practically nonexistent. He may have captured our hearts when he serenaded Beca with Foreigner’s "Feels Like The First Time” without coming off like a glee castoff. Not to mention how we rooted for them as he forgave Beca during her Simple Mind's "Don't You Forget About Me" mash-up. But none of that matters, this time around they share maybe three scenes, with little that invokes the warm and fuzzies. Most of the romance is left to Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and obnoxious former Treblemaker leader Bumper (Adam DeVine). Falling back into the overly used secret hook-up schtick between the two, before the moment of revelation is tiresome. Embarrassing tension and power vocals can only take you so far.

Also tiresome is the mean spirited humor. The original was full of self-effacing humor, and hilarious one liners. Instead we're faced with ethnic barbs and flat sexist jokes. Bella Flo (Chrissie Fit) seems to only get screen time when cracking jokes about growing up in poverty-stricken South America or when a back flip is needed. Worst, commentators John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks) get expanded roles with John upping the degrading comments. Sure a few of his pompous comments are funny, but the zingers land with less sting as the film goes on.

Pitch Perfect 2 doesn't fall flat with every effort. Das Sound Machine poses a legitimate threat, even more so than the Treblemakers did in the first one. The riff off is a lot of fun, especially with the addition of the Green Bay Packers. It's not as surprising this time around, but it isn't any less fun with a Dave and Busters card on the line, and categories like "I Dated John Mayer."

The production numbers are absolutely dazzling, but Pitch Perfect 2 is best when it's Bellas are together and bonding. When they go on a retreat they have to overcome their differences and disagreements by using their brains and talents. The culmination of the moment is when they sing “Cups” to each other over a camp fire, its sincere and sweet, and every reason why we were dying for a sequel. Then again, there's nothing really surprising in this sequel. It was impossible to recapture the spark that made the original so memorable. Beca blowing us away with her surprise rendition of "Cups" can't be duplicated by Emily launching into not quite finished "Flashlight." The new girl blowing the riff off by not understanding the rules doesn't have the same disappointment this time around, it's far too gawky and embarrassing when Emily is center attention. Fat Amy splitting her pants onstage isn't nearly as funny as the high-strung Aubrey puking like a fire hydrant at the big competition. Pitch Perfect 2 should be like bubbly freshly corked champagne, like its predecessor, rather than the day old less than fizzy drink it is. It's drinkable and still tasty, but not nearly as good as it could be. You'll see it for the nostalgia, but you won't be as eager for another sequel.


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