A cappella sequel outduels ‘Mad Max’

A cappella sequel outduels ‘Mad Max’

‘Pitch Perfect 2’

Starring: Anne Kendrick, Hallie Steinfeld, Rebel Wilson

Directed by: Elizabeth Banks

Rated: PG-13

 

The big faceoff this past weekend was this sequel to the hugely popular first “Pitch Perfect” and the return of “Mad Max.” And the ladies take it, with a box office return that exceeded expectations by over $20 million. The news gets even better because as follow-ups go, this one has some legs — and not just those that belong to the Barden Bellas.

Last week’s dismal “Hot Pursuit” could have taken a lesson from the harmonious all-female team that put together “Pitch 2.” From the music producers to the writer to the director — all involved are women, not to mention the mostly female cast. The result is a kinder, sweeter kind of funny that is not without its irreverence or political incorrectness, but it delivers without being mean or snarky.

Kay Cannon, who also wrote the first “Pitch Perfect,” opens with the Bellas performing for the president and first lady. But an aerial stunt gone awry leaves Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) rather zaftig backside exposed on national television, giving new meaning to the term “going commando.” The a cappella group governing body (Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins returning in the same roles) prevent them from auditioning new singers as a punishment, but nothing is said about taking on legacies.

Enter Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), new to Barden and a BB legacy of her mother (Katey Sagal), a five-octave all-star from the ’80s. With her voice and original material, the Bellas decide to take on the German group Das Sound Machine at the upcoming international competition in Copenhagen to redeem their reputation.

In her first attempt at directing a feature film, Elizabeth Banks acquits herself nicely. It’s a steady, not-too-flashy job — all that’s needed here. While Aubrey (Anna Camp) has graduated from Barden, the remaining seniors Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Chloe (Brittany Snow) have taken over choreography and production duties for the group, but Beca’s internship at a record label (run by Keegan-Michael Key in a hilarious small role) threatens to interfere with her commitment to the Bellas, plus she’s still stepping out with Jesse (Skylar Astin).

The musical numbers are like over-extended scenes from “Glee” with mash ups of top 40 hits that audiences will love. The a cappella vocals are just a little too perfectly tuned, but the numbers are flashy and jazzed up with some great dance work.

In addition to Kendrick, Snow and newcomer Steinfeld, the other Bellas are back too, including the very funny Hana Mae Lee as the “low talking” Lily who speaks in weird non sequiturs that confound her fellow Bellas. Boy crazy Sloane (Alexis Knapp) is also back, along with new addition Flo (Chrissie Fit), a Central American exchange student who uses every opportunity to remind everyone how bad her childhood was in her crime-ridden country.

There are subplots with romances that involve Emily and Benji (Ben Pratt), and Amy and her beau Bumper (Adam Devine), and a really odd scene with comedian David Cross as an eccentric millionaire who hosts an a cappella competition in his basement where the winners get a $42,000 gift card to Dave & Buster’s. But mostly this is about the performances, including a reprisal of the surprise hit song from the first film, “When I’m Gone,” sung by Anna Kendrick and the rest of the group.

Music directors Julianne Jordan and Julia Michels get credit for putting together the musical numbers that cover just about every top 10 rap song in the last decade. But it is Emily’s original song “Flashlight” composed by Sia and Sam Smith that gets the superstar pop treatment. Don’t be surprised if it’s the next hit spawned from this franchise as it makes its way to radio airwaves.

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