‘Pitch Perfect 2’ stays on key
The storytelling in the “Pitch Perfect” movies boils down to a formula a lot like the a cappella mash-ups the cast throws at us. Keep the set list fresh and the harmonies addictively bopping along, and the basic structure can successfully accommodate pretty much anything the filmmakers are inclined to try, from rom-com pensiveness to stage-jittery gross-outs.
For their new encore, “Pitch Perfect 2,” edgy Beca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), perky Chloe (Brittany Snow), and the other Barden Bellas could easily just get into a rematch with their college singing nemeses the Treblemakers. It would probably work. But it also works that the sequel gives Wilson a love story, trots out a bondage-style rival act, and enlists everyone from Snoop Dogg to the Green Bay Packers to harmonize. Actress-turned-director Elizabeth Banks delivers a comedy that’s slightly broader than the first film, and just as infectious.
The movie opens with the three-time national champion Bellas performing for President Obama at the Kennedy Center, only to have Fat Amy’s entrance to “Wrecking Ball” — complete with silk harness, a la Pink at the Grammys — go disastrously awry. The silk rips, so does Amy’s underwear-optional bodysuit, and the racy tag ending with “gate” blows up across the Twitterverse. Mortifying for her, but a welcome respite for Patriots fans who could do with having that tired suffix tacked onto someone else’s scandal for a news cycle or two.
The a cappella circuit’s screwball commentators/policymakers (Banks and John Michael Higgins) ban the Bellas from the next national competition and prohibit them from recruiting new members. Fortunately, there are ample redemption-friendly loopholes, and the girls start prepping for an international showdown with Das Sound Machine, a German group that’s part Rammstein, part “Glee.” Statuesque Birgitte Hjort Sorensen is like the Ivan Drago to Kendrick’s intimidated Rocky. The Bellas also welcome eager, talented auditionee Emily (Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”), whose alumna mom (gamely trilling Katey Sagal) has been talking up the experience forever.
Loopy tangents include the girls going on a mojo-restoring camping retreat, complete with surprise host and “MMMBop” mash-up, and a comically elaborate riff-off organized by David Cross’s Hefner-robed, idly rich a cappella fanboy. The jokes don’t all sing. Chrissie Fit’s hardscrabble Latina Bella is racial-satire overkill, especially with Hana Mae Lee’s tedious Lilly Onakuramara back in the mix, and Higgins spouting zippier political incorrectness throughout.
Still, there’s enough legit story to hold things together between musical numbers. Aspiring producer Beca lands an internship at a hot recording studio, where she struggles to make an impression on her hipster boss (Keegan-Michael Key, “Key and Peele”), and gets some unlikely help. Meanwhile, Kendrick turns over the romance to Wilson, whose stock has shot up since the first movie, and who has brassy fun with Fat Amy’s serenade of reformed Treblemaker ego-freak Bumper (Adam DeVine).
It’s simultaneously silly and progressive, a familiar movie moment reserved for the girl you’d least expect. Set it to a ridiculously entertaining Pat Benatar cover — we won’t spoil which — and it’s another note that this franchise hits just fine.