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Article by Teddy Durgin

'Pitch Perfect 2' hits mostly high notes

I've never thought reviewers can apply the usual movie criticism to big-screen musicals anyway. Most are not really movies, per se, but more like entertainments. The first "Pitch Perfect" was a sleeper hit at the box office that went on to become a bona fide phenomenon on DVD, Blu-Ray, pay-per-view and cable TV. The sequel tries to build off of that success with mixed results. As a structured film, it's not very good. As a showcase of voices, dance numbers and just shear "Let us entertain you!" spectacle, it delivers big time. Pretty much everyone returns from the first film, including Anna Kendrick as Beca, the de facto leader of the all-female Bellas a cappella group. In the first film, they won their college singing championship despite fielding a team of misfits that included the larger-than-life, love-me-or-leave-me Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson); the wound-up, supremely tense Chloe (Brittany Snow); big-voiced lesbian Cynthia (Ester Dean); and the small-voiced, Asian co-ed Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) along with their assorted boyfriends and admirers. Into the mix this time, director Elizabeth Banks throws in new recruit Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) and a rival, seemingly unbeatable German a cappella group called Das Sound Machine -- think Nazis crossed with Terminators crossed with "Chorus Line" singers. The sequel begins with an uproarious sequence in which the Bellas perform live for President and Mrs. Obama and Fat Amy ends up having a serious wardrobe malfunction. From there, the Bellas become a national disgrace whose only hope is to win an international a cappella competition or have their charter forever revoked. Once again, Banks and John Michael Higgins provide running (and politically incorrect) commentary as the singing circuit's top play-by-play and color commentating team. The first "Pitch Perfect" was aimed at an older high-school/college demographic along with anyone who watched "The Voice," "American Idol" and "America's Got Talent" at the time. But a funny thing happened as the film went from the theaters to home viewing - tweens and elementary-schoolers caught its vibe. It became one of the weirdest family films out there. The sequel suffers a bit from having to stay true to its original roots, but not get too raunchy or too profane for the new younger set that is propelling the box office to big totals. So, while Banks's Gail and Higgins's John still toss around sexist barbs and more than a few offensive digs at various minorities, and Fat Amy still has the sex drive of a feral minx, there is less of a college campus comedy vibe to this follow-up. The characters barely spend any time on campus at all, in fact, and certainly no time in an actual classroom. "Pitch Perfect 2" is more interested in getting from big musical setpiece to big musical setpiece and showcasing a ton of cameos from Snoop Dogg, to "The View" co-hosts, to the Green Bay Packers. And the Bellas' parents are nowhere to be found. Here, despite some being in danger of not graduating for placing too much time and focus on the singing, moms and dads are as present as in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Fortunately, the big setpieces all work, for the most part. There is a kooky "sing-off" in the basement of a millionaire a cappella fan (David Cross) that almost threatens to be better than the climactic contest in Copenhagen. I also liked the Bellas going on a retreat to find their voice again and being put through a "Stripes"-like boot camp by a former Bella. And a subplot involving Beca trying to please a demanding boss (Keegan-Michael Key, who needs his own movie pronto!) could have been expanded and made its own movie. "Pitch Perfect 2" throws a lot at the canvas and a fair amount of it sticks... enough for me to give it a recommendation for casual fans and an enthusiastic, in-tune "Go-see-it" to those who just wanna see these pitches back on the big screen.

"Pitch Perfect 2" is rated PG-13 for language and innuendo.


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