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Movie review: ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ isn’t much to sing home about

John Michael Higgins stars as John and Elizabeth Banks stars as Gail in Universal Pictures' “Pitch Perfect 2.”
John Michael Higgins stars as John and Elizabeth Banks stars as Gail in Universal Pictures' “Pitch Perfect 2.” Universal Pictures

Can we please talk about the snottiness of “Pitch Perfect 2”? It’s seriously snotty. It’s a two-hour lesson in how to act like a frenemy to your alleged friends. And it’s not funny enough.

Correction: For the sequel to become a global success, yes, it’s funny enough. And some of the vocals are choice. But I am not representing a cross-section of the planet’s “Pitch Perfect” fan base with this review, I’m representing myself, and I found the new movie snide and lazy instead of wittily sarcastic. Slight difference there, and even talented screenwriters and promising first-time directors can miss it.

In the 2012 hit, which was equal parts PG-13 raunch and energetically paced underdog fantasy, screenwriter Kay Cannon (who wrote the sequel as well) let Anna Kendrick’s wary, guarded Beca run the show and negotiate the narrative complications with a light, dry touch. This time, by design, Kendrick fades into the ensemble woodwork and her character’s main dilemma is how long she can keep her recording studio internship a secret from the all-female Barden Bellas a capella group. It’s a dumb conflict – delayed secrets tend not to work when stretched across half a movie or more, even if you have Keegan-Michael Key aboard to play the music producer who becomes Beca’s mentor.

The Bellas are laid low early on in “Pitch Perfect 2,” when Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson, and honestly, that character name is such a drag) accidentally exposes her genitalia during a concert attended by Barack and Michelle Obama. In the first film, the inciting humiliation was due to ill-timed projectile vomiting. There will most assuredly be a “Pitch Perfect 3” so you wonder where they’re going to go next in terms of a contrived big opening.

Banned from their national tour but not from the world a cappella competition in Copenhagen, the Bellas must learn to regroup, relocate their sound and settle their romantic hash. Fat Amy’s hook-ups with Bumper (Adam Devine) lead to an awkward “what is this, really?” interlude. Meantime Beca’s relationship with Jesse (Skylar Astin) is perfunctory at best. Screenwriter Cannon is more interested in putting Beca in verbal smackdowns with the Bellas’ hostile German rivals, members of a group called Das Sound Machine. I haven’t seen such poor Teutonic stereotyping since the evil skier in “Hot Dog…the Movie.”

In her first feature as director, Elizabeth Banks does well enough with spotty material and back in front of the camera as well, alongside John Michael Higgins as the snide color commentators tracking the competition action. Hearing Kendrick and company harmonize once again on “When I’m Gone” (used in the first, rather better movie) is easy on the ears, and Hailee Steinfeld as the idealistic newbie is a breath of fresh air. For big fans of the first “Pitch Perfect,” the sequel will not aggravate or offend. But I swear, in one party sequence Kendrick appears to be stifling a yawn. It’s Wilson movie anyway, for better or worse.

Pitch Perfect 2

C Cast: Rebel Wilson, Anna Kendrick, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Devine, John Michael Higgins

Director: Elizabeth Banks

Length: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Rating: PG-13 (innuendo and language)

Theaters

Chapel Hill: Lumina, Timberlyne. Raleigh: Mission Valley, Six Forks, Grande, North Hills, Carmike, Brier Creek, Wakefield. Roxboro: Palace. Garner: White Oak. Apex: Beaver Creek. Durham: Southpoint, Northgate, Wynnsong. Morrisville: Park Place. Smithfield: Smithfield. Cary: Crossroads.

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