In theaters Friday, May 15
2 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
Did you miss the Barden Bellas when they were gone? Aca-obviously. The 2012 hit — a delightful mash-up of Glee and Bring It On — was candy-coated gold. But beware of Comedy Sequelitis. Though it’s a kick to see a cast reunite, bigger and bolder doesn’t always mean better. (And I’m not just talking about Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.) This film, which once again chronicles the cutthroat world of collegiate a cappella, is no exception. Here’s how it charts:
High Note: Run the World (Girls)
Our Bellas rule. They’re now three-time national champs and in the opening scene, they’re performing at the Kennedy Center for the POTUS and FLOTUS. Leave it to Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) to accidentally show her nether regions to the well-heeled crowd. Mortified by the gone-viral mishap, the Bellas can only redeem their reputation by winning the a capella World Championship in Copenhagen. Chief competition: Das Sound Machine, Germans who uncannily resemble the disaffected Sprockets people from ‘90s-era Saturday Night Live. Auf Wiedersehen to the days when the Bellas didn’t even think they could beat the all-male Treblemakers at Barden University. The challenge is on!
Low Note: Drop It Like It’s Hot
Anna Kendrick’s Beca, a mash-up maestro, spends the movie looking like she’d rather scale a fish than scale her vocals. (Maybe because Kendrick is nearly 30 and she’s still playing a college student?) The character, almost unbearably smug and snappish now, takes a coveted internship at a recording studio without telling the Bellas. In a two-hour film, watching her try to impress her verbally abusive boss feels superfluous and out of sync with the rest of the film. So she can prove her worth by singing Christmas carols with Snoop Dogg. Great. Save it for Pitch Perfect 3: The Bellas Get Real Jobs.
High Note: Teenage Dream
As part of their punishment, the Bellas aren’t allowed to recruit new members. That doesn’t stop eager freshman Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) from knocking on the door and asking for insta-membership. This girl is special, and not just because she sings original material. Her mom (Katey Sagal) was also a Bella, making young Emily a legacy. Steinfeld might not have a golden voice, but she's an endearing addition. She even gets a sweet romance with adorkable would-be magician Benji (Ben Platt). Only a litter of puppies are cuter.
Low Note: Don’t You Forget About Me
He was the guy who screened The Breakfast Club for her and bailed her out of jail. He even serenaded her with Foreigner’s “Feels Like The First Time” without coming off like an extra from Rock of Ages. Alas, Jesse (Skylar Astin) shares maybe three minutes and two pecks on the lips with his beloved Beca here. What a disappointing development for a couple that we’re emotionally invested in and one that we’ve seen blossom from the get-go. Instead, the lead romance shifts to Fat Amy and obnoxious former Treblemaker leader Bumper (Adam DeVine). One oversized personality plus one oversized personality don’t necessarily make for a charming twosome.
High Note: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
It’s probably not right to pit two female-bonding comedies against each other. Too bad! Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara’s cringeworthy behavior in Hot Pursuit still enrages me. How refreshing that these characters overcome their differences and disagreements by using their brains and talents. When they go on a retreat and sing “Cups” to each other over a camp fire, the moment is sincere and sweet. These girls have a true sisterly bond.
Low Note: Rude
You'll long for the original's self-effacing humor, replaced here by mean-spirited ethnic jokes. Bella Flo exists solely so she can make cracks about growing up in poverty-stricken South America. All we still know about Cynthia-Rose (Ester Dean) is that she's black and gay. Worst offender of all is John Michael Higgins’ sexist a capella color commentator, reminding the Bellas that they’re better off staying home and getting pregnant. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the character is supposed to come off like a pompous jackass — so why do his put-downs land with an excruciating thud? Audiences want to sit back and lap up the fun. This is neither the time nor place to attempt button-pushing Daily Show-like satire.
High Note: Good Vibrations
Director (and coproducer and costar) Elizabeth Banks stages some dazzling production numbers that pop off the screen and sound sensational. Even a Fall Out Boy anthem electrifies! The crescendo is an epic riff-off competition that takes place in the basement of a fan’s mansion (?!), where The Bellas, Treblemakers, Das Sound Machine, and more perform everything from Carrie Underwood to Bell Biv Devoe. Bonus bravo for the delectable category of “I Dated John Mayer” — though sources can’t confirm that he and Vanessa Carlton ever got together. (Maybe the writer intended for the category to read, “I Dated the Guy from Third Eye Blind.”)
Low Note: I Knew You Were Trouble
Then again, that inevitable riff-off is not nearly as organic or surprising as the one in the original. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible for a Part 2 to recapture the spark. Beca sitting cross-legged by herself on a stage and launching into “Cups” can’t be duplicated by Emily standing in front of the girls and launching into “Flashlight.” Outrageous Fat Amy splitting her pants open onstage in Washington, D.C. isn’t as howlingly funny as high-strung Aubrey puking her guts out in New York. This film, for all its fizz and froth, is still just a reprise. You'll probably see it anyway — but you won't stand up and cheer.
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