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Pitch Perfect 2
Back for more mouth fun with the Bellas
Loves: Music, fun movies, John Michael Higgins, Keegan Michael Key
Likes: A cappella, mash-ups, Anna Kendrick
Hates: When sequels fall short
Was there ever a single doubt that the surprise hit A cappella musical comedy Pitch Perfect would get a sequel? From the first trailer it was obvious that the adorable, talented Beca (Anna Kendrick) was the kind of character viewers would want to see more of, especially as part of the Barden Bellas and the fun world of competitive singing. The only questions were when that second film would arrive and what the Bellas would do for an encore. Well, three years sees the now-dynastic, three-time champion Bellas reeling from an embarrassing gaffe by Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) in front of President Obama, which left the group banned from U.S. competition. Their only chance for redemption is to win the world championships, but the odds are stacked against them, especially with the precise German group Das Sound Machine standing in their way.
Under the leadership of first-time feature director Elizabeth Banks, the core crew is back, with Kendrick, Brittany Snow and company more or less bringing the same, appealing game to the table, managing to seem like underdogs while still being obviously talented. That consistency is a problem though when it comes to Wilson, as her act doesn't carry as well in this entry. There are still moments that are funny (basically anything she does opposite forner Barden star Bumper [Adam DeVine] or German singer Pieter [internet star Flula Borg]) but it feels like Fat Amy has tipped over into an area where she no longer surprises and the results don't draw laughs like they did in the first film. That's unfortunate, because she's often used as the punchline in a scene, which results in a few duds along the way. Honestly, most scenes amongst the Bellas not involving singing are either padding or forgettable, as there's nothing much new with them and there's not much interesting plot-wise.
Of course, three years after the first film means there's some new blood, which comes in the form of Flo (Chrissie Fit), a latina member who joined in the time since the first movie, and Emily (Hailey Steinfeld), a freshman whose mom (an underutilized Katey Segal) was a member of the Bellas. While Flo is essentially a one-joke character, there to point out that her fellow Bellas' problems are miniscule compared to the real struggles she's faced in life (admittedly a joke that tends to work well), Emily is the next generation, a new star for the franchise to move forward with. The problem is, Emily just doesn't have the personality Kendrick exudes as Beca (nor most of the other key Bellas), so she can't steal focus, despite the very forced passing of the torch the film builds around. If Emily is the future of Pitch Perfect, she needs to become far more interesting.
Though there are a few things that don't work in the Bellas' second go-round, like an extended training sequence which feels like padding, there's a lot to like when the film hits with a quirky sense of humor that complements the franchise's breezy atmosphere, as Banks maintains the same overall look, feel and energy of the original, particularly in the big musical numbers. The remaining Treblemakers, Ben Platt and Skyler Astin, are solid in limited appearances, Bellas Ester Dean and Hana Mae Lee are secret weapons, drawing consistent laughs with their comedy snipes, and Banks and John Michael Higgins return as the wacked-out authorities of the A cappella world. The film also integrates some tremendous cameos, with Keegan Michael Key playing a record producer and David Cross earning MVP consideration as an A cappella superfan, who is the funniest part of the entire movie.
Naturally, in a film about A cappella singing, the musical performances are the lynchpin, and though Pitch Perfect 2 doesn't offer anything on the level of the outstanding final performance by the Bellas from the first film, there's still plenty to like. That includes the much-improved riff-off, featuring several fun performances, including the return of the Tonehangers (with new members Reggie Watts and John Hodgman) and the introduction of the NFL's Green Bay Packers (giving new meaning to "Bootylicious.") Though the Bellas deliver some solid performances, including an instant-hit original song written by Sia and Sam Smith, it's the Teutonic opposition, led by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Borg, that makes the biggest impact, getting some accent-driven laughs and delivering a handful of epic, opera-tinged numbers, including a re-defining take on Fallout Boy's "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark" (though their dancing could use some work.) When the Bellas take a bit of a backseat musically in their own film, it points out issues with going back to the well.
The film arrives on one Blu-ray and one DVD, which are packed in a standard-width, Blu-Ray keepcase, with a foil-embossed, textured slipcover. The Blu-ray features the standard Universal curved menu design, with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. Audio options include an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and Spanish and French DTS Digital Surround 5.1 tracks, as well as a DVS 2.0 track, while subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish and French.
The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer here is outstanding, hitting all the high marks you'd expect from a modern studio film, especially one that trafficks in eye candy the way Pitch Perfect 2 does, with its vivid sets, flashy light shows and varied costumes. Color is bright but appropriate across the board, while fleshtones are solid and black levels are impressive (one late scene which hides a reveal in the dark, uses that depth to strike a fine line between offering enough cover to mislead, but to allow you to see what's happening if you pay attention.) Fine detail is high throughout the sharp image (a key when it comes to the performance costumes and all that hair) while digital distractions are not a concern, despite a constantly active camera and plenty of action on-screen.
One of the things about Pitch Perfect 2 is the impressive mixing of the singing performances, which results in the camera guiding the sound, so you hear the person focused on-screen most prominently, but without negatively affecting the overall song. It's the most intriguing part of an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation that handles A cappella performances and dialogue adroitly. Watching the finale performance by Das Sound Machine is an actively engaging experience thanks to the dominant low-end and cleanly defined elements, which invite you to move your focus around the soundfield. Atmospheric elements fill out scenes not filled with performances, while dialogue and sound effects are given the clarity and separation they need to do their jobs properly. A great listen from top to bottom.
This time around there's just one commentary, as producer Paul Brooks (who had his own solo track on the first film) joins Banks and producer Max Handelman for a commentary. If there's something not covered in this track, it probably doesn't matter, as they cover the big picture to the small details, discussing casting, editing decisions, improvisations and production challenges (along with addressing certain theories about the characters.) Banks does a great job in explaining her thought processes in directing and the chemistry she shares with her production partners results in an entertaining and informative commentary.
Following an intro by vocal producer Deke Shannon, Astin and Platt, as well as some footage of Banks directing a location shoot, there's a bonus song by the Treblemakers, Bruno Mars "Locked Out of Heaven" (3:27). Though a fine performance, the song chosen for the scene in the film was the better option. There are three extended musical performances included here as well, with two songs by the Bellas, (Natalia Kills' "Problem" [1:58] and the handclap intro of the finale [:44]), and one from Das Sound Machine (Kris Kross' "Jump" [1:23].) All that's meant by extended through is that these are the songs without the dialogue interruptions heard in the film.
An interesting extra for a capella or music fans is the "Das Sound Machine Finale Breakdown." The group's finale performance is presented in four versions: one with all vocals, one with just background vocals, one with just beat boxing and one with just the lead vocals. Listening to each 2:06 cut allows you to see clearly how the sound of a capella is created. Wrapping up the musical content, "Green Bay Rap" is a quick hit (:52) highlighting one of the more unusual aspects of the film, namely the presence of an a capella team made up of players from the Packers.
Back in the world of acting, there are nine scenes in a group of alternate, deleted and extended scenes (running 12:14 in all.) Though most of them are better off forgotten, a beatboxing competition featuring the great Reggie Watts is worth the price of admission. Meanwhile, "Line-Aca-Rama" (3:36) shows off a variety of alternate, seemingly improvised lines from several scenes in the movie, the best of which come from Cross and Higgins, which just makes sense.
"Elizabeth Banks' Directorial Debut" (5:20) looks at the first-time feature director's approach to tackling the sequel, through interviews with the cast and crew and plenty of on-set footage, with a focus on her hands-on style. "The Bellas are Back" (6:13) also features Banks and her team, but this time it's about the girls, including the pre-production prep work they did for the big song and dance numbers, the new recruits and the bonds developed during the shoot. Part of that is their experience in "Aca-camp" (5:04), a big location shoot focused on physical activity (which happens to include a mud pit.)
The film's new take on the original's riff-off competition is covered in detail in "The Making of the Riff-Off" (6:02), revealing how the Packers got involved and allowing some of the cast to talk about the scene. That's followed by the longest featurette, "The World Championships of A Cappella" (9:30) which gives more spotlight to the various A cappella groups that took part in the production, including the well-known Pentatonix, along with a peek at a few lines from Higgins and Banks that were cut from the film. Make sure you keep an eye out for the frequent videobombing from Kendrick.
For fans of Key (and Snoop Dogg), "Snoop is in the House" (2:53) takes a peek at the rapper's cameo in the movie, showing the man at work with the team. Then there's more of Key in "Residual Heat Internship" (2:26), a piece on Beca's internship storyline, which is mainly an excuse to get more of Key on the disc.
"An Aca-Love Story: Fat Amy and Bumper" (5:26) highlights the awkward relationship between two of the film's more over-the-top characters, while the final featurette, "Legacy: Hallie Steinfeld" (6:04), concentrates on the newest Bella, from her introduction to the rest of the cast to her performances during the shooting. It covers a lot of the same ground as the other featurettes, just centering on Steinfeld's part in it all.
Also included is a 3:08 gag reel, which is mostly downtime goofing-around mixed with a few breaks.
Also included in the set is a code for an Ultraviolet stream/download and a digital copy of the film.
The Bottom Line
Pitch Perfect 2 had the challenge of trying to live up to the utterly entertaining first film--an unenviable task, especially with first-timer Banks at the helm. Trying to recapture some of the rag-tag magic while introducing some change, predictably, it didn't hit the same heights as a movie or in the musical performances. That said, it's still an entertaining (if somewhat overlong) two hours of good times, marked by catchy, engaging A cappella songs, an appealing cast and some moments of fun silliness. The Blu-ray presentation is top-notch, with a pile of extras fans should enjoy, offering more music and behind-the-scenes details.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.