They are back, pitches. Whether you invited them or not. As Pitch Perfect 2 opens, the Barden Bellas are at the zenith of competitive acapella group achievement, having dominated the scene imperiously since capturing the national title for the first time three years prior. However, a wardrobe malfunction of Janet-Jackson-circa-Super-Bowl-XXXVIII proportions during a televised performance, witnessed by an audience including none other than the Obamas, sees the Bellas become a national laughing stock – a reminder to us all that, when it comes to acapella, you are only as good as your last note sung and, somewhat more pointedly, don’t display your vagina unrequested.
The incident sees the Bellas shunned from the acapella circuit and suspended from competitions permanently. Unless, of course, they can capture the elusive global acapella title, a feat never before achieved by an American acapella group. It would seem a fool’s errand as the German acapella juggernaut, Das Sound Machine (DSM for those in the know, not to be confused with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), seems assured of victory. Yet, Becca (Anna Kendrick), Chloe (Brittany Snow), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), newcomer Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) and the rest of the Bellas aren’t overborne by the challenge and set to work in an effort to regain their credibility and preserve the legacy of the trailblazing Bellas.
With Pitch Perfect 2, director Elizabeth Banks adopts the D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994) approach to sequel-making by reprising the winning formula of the original film closely – just substitute the ice hockey and earnestness for unaccompanied vocal performance and sass. Each film commences with a public humiliation of the Bellas; the remainder concerns their road to redemption – a winding road involving erratic rehearsals, impromptu outbursts of song and a love story (the sequel’s far more engaging than the original’s). The distinguishing feature is that the scale of Pitch Perfect 2 is grander, with a bigger budget to boot (a not insignificant proportion of which must have been spent on landing some very big names for cameo appearances).
A second time around, the music sequences remain engaging, as well as smoothly choreographed, and the cast retains an effortless sense of rapport and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the sequel’s comic elements also resemble the original’s, with too many punch lines again missing the mark. Or, perhaps more accurately, hitting the same mark over and over again, to wit, the ridiculously misogynistic commentary of John (John Michael Higgins) and the non sequiturs whispered by Lilly (Hana Mae Lee). That one of the best comic moments comes when Fat Amy is interrupted mid-serenade by a passing car as she walks towards the object of her affections, resulting in a delicious piece of delicate physical comedy, emphasises that the writing all too frequently suffers from a lack of subtlety. For the most part, the comedy is bluntly and predictably administered.
But while it’s far from perfect, there’s little doubt that the box office performance of this sequel will be music to the ears of Universal Pictures execs. And it’s hard to begrudge the success of a film that promotes both singing and defeating Germans.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 115 minutes
Pitch Perfect 2 screens nationally in Australian cinemas from 7 May 2015 through Universal Pictures Australia