Aimless "Pitch Perfect 2" Fails Talented Cast

In the scheme of inevitably lackluster sequels to mediocre originals, “Pitch Perfect 2” isn’t the worst. It has at least as many laughs as its predecessor – most courtesy of Aussie actress Rebel Wilson as “Fat Amy.” Its canned acapella medleys are energetic in a “Now That’s What I Call Music” sort of way, the performers’ frequently bad lip syncing covered over by their general enthusiasm.

But try as they might, Beca (Anna Kendrick) and company end up drowning in a sea of plotlessness and frequently grotesque stereotypes, all in service of a barely-there screenplay.

The film returns “30 Rock” and “New Girl” writer Kay Cannon while graduating actress Elizabeth Banks to the director’s chair. It’s her behind-the-camera debut. The takeaway? Banks deserves better, her obviously great rapport with her cast washed out by a story that plays like a hybrid of “Beerfest” and “Wayne’s World 2,” which is even worse than it sounds.

With the band back together, the Barden College Bellas suffer a nightmare performance at the historic John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center and are thus stripped of their charter. The troupe soon sets out to reclaim their good standing with a trip to the World Championships. Many montages ensue. So many.

Unlike the first film, the Bellas are an ensemble in the truest sense of the word with Cannon denying the film a lead. Kendrick gets a flimsy subplot about secretly interning for a record producer – played by an atypically unfunny Keegan-Michael Key – and not much else, getting less screen time than Wilson and little more than most of her co-stars.

Newcomer Chrissie Fit is one of those co-stars, playing Flo, an ambulatory Latino stereotype. Her dialogue is uniformly cringeworthy, dealing in such casually racist character notes that it’s hard to imagine her lines making it to set, let alone final cut.

But in a film that counts Snoop Dogg singing Christmas carols among its biggest gags, laziness shouldn’t come as a surprise. Not its uneasily aggressive lesbian character reprised by Ester Dean nor its misuse of the very capable Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”), one of the movie’s few age-appropriate cast members.

As an unfortunately rare Hollywood film created by and starring women, “Pitch Perfect 2” is alarmingly obtuse in its depiction of them, leaning on stereotypes even more heavily than the last film and showing little interest in its characters as people.

As amusing as “Fat Amy” is, she’s an echo of film critic Rex Reed’s despicable comments about actress Melissa McCarthy’s weight. Amy’s size is part of – if not the whole – joke, and the role, as written, deemphasizes Rebel Wilson’s brilliant comedic timing. And instead of easing away from Amy’s nickname, the screenplay seems to revel in it, playing it up to make Amy’s romance with Adam DeVine’s character seem strange when it’s not.

Viewers who enjoyed “Pitch Perfect” will like “Pitch Perfect 2,” but a little less, liable to be filed away in their memory banks as “Pitch Perfect 1.5.” In the end, it’s exactly what a sequel mustn’t be – the same but not as good.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: May 15, 2015
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Screenwriter: Kay Cannon
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Ester Dean, Adam DeVine, Skylar Astin, Hana Mae Lee, Chrissie Fit, Ben Platt, Anna Camp
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for innuendo and language)