The Barden Bellas are back for an encore in "Pitch Perfect 2," this time taking their a cappella act on the road in search of redemption and a world championship. The sequel is headlined by returning stars Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson and directed by actress-turned-filmmaker Elizabeth Banks (a producer on the first movie). Does it hit the right notes?
According to reviews, yes ... for the most part. Film critics generally agree that "Pitch 2" is funny, catchy and capably crafted, even if it's not, ahem, perfect.
The Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey writes: "The comedy choir wars are more intense, more absurd and more low-brow fun than ever in 'Pitch Perfect 2.' It is almost impossible not to be amused by the cutthroat world of competitive a cappella." Among the cast, Kendrick "continues to prove her comic and singing chops," Wilson's schtick is "still funny -- for now," and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld "proves a very good addition to the chorus line ... freshening up a fairly predictable plot."
Sharkey adds that the sequel represents "an impressive feature directing debut, with Banks handling the high-octane chaos of 'Pitch' with almost perfect aplomb. She sets a fast pace that is definitely needed to keep this kind of zany piece afloat."
Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt gives "Pitch 2" a B+ grade and says it "sometimes feels less like a movie than a two-hour episode of 'Glee' ghostwritten by Amy Schumer; jokes fly like they're being shot from T-shirt guns at a gonzo pep rally, and not all of them stick the landing."
But, she continues, "the story also gives big, joyful voice to groups whose members have spent their whole lives being targeted because of who they are, be it black, gay, overweight, female, or just deeply uncool. Now -- to quote Beyonce, a patron saint of 'Pitch'ery -- they run this mother."
The New York Times' A.O. Scott says the success of the first film "has allowed (or perhaps forced) this installment to be bigger, louder and wilder, with new, sometimes redundant characters, celebrity cameos -- Snoop Dogg! Jake Tapper! The Green Bay Packers! -- and artificially elevated dramatic stakes. Some of the underdog appeal is gone, but a victory lap can be its own kind of fun, and more is not necessarily something to complain about, especially when what there is more of is [Wilson's] Fat Amy."
The Boston Globe's Tom Russo writes: "Banks delivers a comedy that's slightly broader than the first film, and just as infectious." As with the movie's own a cappella mash-ups, the strategy is simple enough: "Keep the set list fresh and the harmonies addictively bopping along, and the basic structure can successfully accommodate pretty much anything the filmmakers are inclined to try, from rom-com pensiveness to stage-jittery gross-outs."
But "PP2" hasn't been music to every critic's ears. The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips, for example, says the first film is "rather better" and pleads: "Can we please talk about the snottiness of 'Pitch Perfect 2'? It's seriously snotty. It's a two-hour lesson in how to act like a frenemy to your alleged friends. And it's not funny enough."
And NPR's Andrew Lapin laments: "The effortless charms of Kendrick, Wilson and top-notch bit players like Brittany Snow and Adam DeVine now play second fiddle to so much shock humor and extended celebrity cameos that a 'Saturday Night Live' parody would feel redundant. ... 'Pitch Perfect 2' is singing a completely different tune from the 2012 original. And the notes are feeling a bit overproduced."