“What are we doing!” – Anna Kendrick’s Beca, about halfway through “Pitch Perfect 2.” Good question.
For a movie about the cheerfully bizarre world of competition a cappella singing, “Pitch Perfect 2” seems just as obsessed, if not more so, with characters who seem to be sexually confused.
Just some — some — examples:
• “This is an all a cappella party,” a senior explains to a freshman girl. “Get ready to meet a lot of sexually confused guys.”
• Confronting a gorgeous, Amazonian rival singer from Germany named Kommissar, Beca says, “I’m sexually confused right now.” Later she tries to insult Komissar but winds up saying, “Your sweat smells like cinnamon!”
• When the Bellas go on a retreat, they’re squished together in sleeping bags. Beca’s best friend Chloe (Brittany Snow), her face an inch from Beca’s, whispers that she regrets having not experimented enough in college. Beca turns away, and another Bella licks Beca’s nose.
• When the bonehead, racist, misogynist announcer John (John Michael Higgins) rattles off a list of things he’s been described as, his partner Gail (Elizabeth Banks) says, “I thought you were going to say gay.”
Weird. It’s just … weird.
The first “Pitch Perfect” was a surprise hit, thanks to an infectious soundtrack filled with instrument-free renditions of dozens of pop and hip-hop hits, an unabashedly life-affirming attitude and a winning cast, led by the ever-adorable Anna Kendrick. It was a pure confection of fun.
“Pitch Perfect 2,” written by Kay Cannon (who penned the original script, inspired by Mickey Rapkin’s book) and directed by Elizabeth Banks, has a few wickedly funny one-liners and occasional moments of zany inspiration, but the musical numbers are often curiously dull, and there are far too many scenes that serve as time-killing filler and/or journeys into head-scratching, “what was THAT?” territory.
We pick up the story with the sorority singing group known as the Bellas as three-time national champions, performing for President Obama and the first lady (shown in cheesy cutaway shots). When things go disastrously wrong, the Bellas are stripped of their title — but they’re still allowed to compete in the world championships, because if not, we’re out of movie even as the movie is just getting started.
“Pitch Perfect 2” strains to find some plot conflicts while balancing the line between satire and rousing musical numbers. Beca gets an internship working for a producer (a very funny Keegan-Michael Key) “who sleeps on a bed made of Grammys,” as he puts it.
This producer is clearly nuts. He is one of at least a half-dozen characters in “Pitch Perfect” who is in dire need of intense therapy and perhaps medication, and I’m not making light of such problems by pointing this out.
Consider Beca’s best friend Chloe, who keeps flunking on purpose so she can remain a Bella. She’s in her seventh year of college. (That joke worked better in “Animal House.”) Or Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), who speaks in a creepy whisper and says things like, “All my teeth come from different people.” Or David Cross’ beyond-eccentric millionaire, who wears a silk robe and a giant medallion and hosts a sing-off in the basement of his own house, with the winning group getting a $42,000 gift card at Dave & Busters.
Not to mention the aggressive embracing of stereotypes, e.g., the aforementioned John the announcer routinely putting down women and saying a Guatemalan Bella tumbling about the stage might vault her way right “back to Mexico.” And of course the German a cappella champs are rigid and favor aggressive, robotic, precision dance moves. Tired, tired, tired stuff.
Also, one extended medley features different groups singing Journey’s odious, lunge-for-the-dial “Any Way You Want It.” WHY?
Every once in a while “Pitch Perfect 2” takes flight. Rebel Wilson’s “Fat Amy” makes a grand romantic gesture while singing “We Belong” with a couple of great visual punch lines. Beca and Snoop Dogg (that’s right) collaborate on a holiday musical mash-up I’d put on my playlist. New cast member Hailee Steinfeld sparkles as Emily, a freshman pledge who wants to sing original material.
When Beca sneaks Emily into a studio to record a number, she tells her, “Get your cute butt in there,” and then says, “Don’t touch anything. You’re gorgeous, but … clumsy.”
Beca might want to have a talk with her boyfriend. Who wears sleeveless shirts, loves to sing a cappella and hops around all the time like a male cheerleader.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.