"Pitch Perfect" Woefully Out Of Tune

Judging by the enormous pre-release push Universal has given “Pitch Perfect,” it’s safe to assume the studio is confident in the film. The picture capably assumes the role of snarky teenage comedy, but there’s a cynical, “filmmaking by checklist” undercurrent that will sour audiences expecting something remotely substantive. It should, however, wildly appease younger viewers who are used to chatting, hooting, and hollering their way through movies. “Pitch Perfect” is so squarely aimed at teenagers that it’s practically designed to best enjoyed from behind the glow of a cell phone. The film begs you to divert your attention elsewhere, but I was stuck in its miserable tractor beam of projectile vomit jokes and its love affair with adding “aca” to the beginning of every word imaginable. “Aca” as in “acapella.” Get it? You will by the 20th time they use it.

Riding the coattails of FOX’s hit show “Glee” is something of a no-brainer for Universal, but a feature film doesn’t have the quick turnaround of a weekly series. Subsequently, the songs featured in the film aren’t that current, which is something of a problem since the story revolves around a female acapella group that isn’t current enough. Anna Kendrick stars as Beca, a college freshman/loner/DJ who’s too cool to join her school’s acapella group and spends her time working for college radio and making “alternative” remixes of David Guetta and The Proclaimers. When the leaders of the acapella group, Aubrey (Anna Camp) and Chloe (Brittany Snow), finally convince Beca to join, the audience has already suffered through one of the film’s three full-length performances of Ace Of Base’s “The Sign.”

Beca soon gets involved with Jesse (Skylar Astin), a member of the group’s main competition, the school’s all-male acapella group. Of course, the relationship is forbidden and should have consequences later in the film – at least, it would under the control of a competent screenwriter. But not Kay Cannon, the writer of this picture. The love story goes nowhere, only serving to make a weird, self-serving parallel to one of the all-time great teenage comedies, “The Breakfast Club.” The multitude of references to that film backfires in a major way, but it’s a worthwhile lesson to burgeoning filmmakers – don’t invoke John Hughes. Don’t. If the idea comes to you, you’re not in the same galaxy that John Hughes was at his worst. “The Breakfast Club” had essential things to say about youth. “Pitch Perfect” is only interested in its hilariously quirky female Asian character making a snow angel in a giant puddle of puke (this actually happens in the film).

Is any of the film funny? Not really. Very little of it surpasses laughs of the “har-har” variety and none of its humor is insightful. The aforementioned Asian character, Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), gets some humorous moments, but I wasn’t sure what her ethnicity had to do with her low-talking tendencies (a la “Seinfeld”) and penchant for outrageous non-sequiturs – all of the characters are stereotypes, mind you. Rebel Wilson’s “Fat Amy” is by far the best thing about the film, but her role isn’t substantive and it seems like the film’s running time (nearly two hours) is a product of including every last scene of hers. But, she’s just as funny here as she was in “Bridesmaids,” and her offbeat comedic timing is almost enough to save the film from total disaster. If “Pitch Perfect” is successful enough to warrant a sequel, and it might be, it should be a “Fat Amy” spinoff. Trash every other character and start over.

Anna Kendrick can sing, but bad lip-syncing doesn’t do her, nor anyone else, any favors. The soundtrack, featuring years-old hits like Jessie J’s “Price Tag” and Bruno Mars’ “Just The Way You Are” (already featured on “Glee”), is forgettable at best. The most interesting musical performance, a “songs about sex” medley featuring Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” is out of place within the confines of a PG-13 comedy starring a mostly Caucasian cast. Nonetheless, the pic will do well with teenagers because of a strong advertising campaign and will pull in other viewers with false promises of clever comedy and an appealing musical bent. See the film for Rebel Wilson’s performance, if you must, but be prepared for an avalanche of vomit gags and eye-rolling “aca” wordplay. Aca-awesome! Better yet, stay home and watch “The Breakfast Club.”

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: September 28, 2012 (Limited)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Jason Moore
Screenwriter: Kay Cannon, Jeff Roda
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson, Alexis Knapp, Adam DeVine, Freddie Stroma
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material, language and drug references)