First-time director Elizabeth Banks, who also plays half of the “Pitch Perfect” series’ a cappella podcasting team, and returning screenwriter Kay Cannon deliver a slick, consistently fun and foot-tapping blockbuster to follow up the surprise hit from 2012. While the original is a cute little film that sets up the rules of this fictional world where a cappella competitions draw substantial audiences, I found “Pitch Perfect 2” to be the better film overall.
Starting with the opening number that was given away in the teaser where Fat Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) skintight suit rips during a performance for the president and first lady, resulting in “Muffgate,” “Pitch Perfect 2” moves smoothly through the cycle of “joke to character moment to song” as the Barden Bellas pursue a world championship.
Some might find the humor obvious and repetitive, but that’s my favorite type of humor. I particularly like how Beca (Anna Kendrick) spectacularly fails every time she tries to insult the lead singer of the Bellas’ German rival, Das Sound Machine (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), instead complimenting her (“Your sweat smells like cinnamon!”). The hits from the first film are back, too, such as the Bellas’ Japanese member Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) saying bizarre things that her teammates can’t quite hear. There are also at least three decent fart jokes thrown in for good measure, along with a bevy of one-liners from Banks’ alternately racist and sexist podcasting partner (John Michael Higgins).
Cannon and Banks take the absurdity just far enough. If the idea of the Green Bay Packers as an a cappella group doesn’t land for you, well, it’s only for one sequence anyway.
Emily (the adorable Hailee Steinfeld) smoothly slots into the Bellas as the new girl. She also gets a cute little love story on the side with a member of the Treblemakers. I like how the competing a cappella groups in “Pitch Perfect 2” are basically friendly rivals; aside from the over-the-top smack talk, we don’t have to stomach any of the genuine hatred such as what’s found in “Glee.”
All the other major Bellas are back (although Anna Camp’s Aubrey now runs a business retreat campground), with Brittany Snow’s Chloe in particular giving Van Wilder a run for his money; she’s in her seventh year at Barden. “Pitch Perfect 2” smartly casts supporting players, particularly Keenan-Michael Key as the music producer who hears intern Beca’s demo. Snoop Dogg also makes a spot-on cameo; I wish that Christmas album was a real thing (but at least his “Winter Wonderland” is on the soundtrack).
Beca’s demo, written by Emily, is “Flashlight,” which in real life is by Jesse J and co-written by Sam Smith, he of the Grammy love. Perhaps a little too perfect to be Emily’s first attempt at writing a song, it’s clearly intended to by this film’s “Cups” — and that’s fine, because it’s a sweet enough tune to earn the title. I also liked Fat Amy belting out Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.” And various international groups perform “Any Way You Want It,” the best a cappella Journey cover since the “Glee” kids broke out “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
All told, while “Pitch Perfect 2” doesn’t have any surprises, it’s an expertly packaged sequel that briskly moves between laughs, tunes, the likable Bellas and the wonderfully weird world of competitive a cappella.