Pitch Perfect 2

Hailee Steinfeld joins Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Alexis Snapp and Rebel WilsonRichard Cartwright

‘Pitch Perfect 2’
Elizabeth Banks
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

Well before it drops a leftfield Sonia Sotomayor joke, it’s pretty clear “Pitch Perfect 2,” like its predecessor, isn’t an Up With People pep-fest, getting in our face and ear canals with shrilly-committed a cappella. It’s more than people crooning and frugging, though it’s that too. It aspires to meld the backstage ’30s musical, like “The Gold Diggers of 1933,” with a hypothetical live-action “Simpsons” episode or the cinema of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (“21” and “22 Jump Street,” etc.). It earnestly offers up treble-blaring covers of hits modern and old, but it also mocks the conventions of movies like these, as when it points out that two (though actually three, maybe four) of its white female leads are completely interchangeable. It offers ad-libs, some delivered by ringers like David Cross and Jason Jones, as well as absurdist jokes. When the Green Bay Packers swing by for an all-star a cappella off, the strange brew is something else.

“Pitch Perfect 2,” in its unassuming (but keyed-up, overdetermined) way, wants to do it all, and that also means being a bit sloppy. The plot doesn’t make much sense, even for a winkingly slapdash affair. Having won the national a cappella championship, our collegiate crooners — mostly played by people pushing 30, natch — go international, competing with the world’s best and presumably weirdest. Here’s a chance for a silly franchise to go even sillier, indulging in the loopiness that marked Guy Maddin’s retro-style “The Saddest Music in the World.” But it mostly hangs back home, where our heroes have been shamed due to a pre-credits sequence, where a wardrobe malfunction led to Rebel Wilson’s “Fat Amy” flashing her vag at POTUS and FLOTUS. But this disaster winds up mostly forgotten by the halfway mark, and the gang worries about moving on — i.e., not doing a “Pitch Perfect 3” — even after inducting a newb, played with a mixture of pizzaz and slapstick by Hailee Steinfeld.

Supporting player Elizabeth Banks and genius Christopher Guest regular John Michael Higgins reprise their roles as the snide running commentators, but the former also slips into the director’s chair. Her directorial debut moves, be it through music or gags, though it could be more discerning with the latter. The first half has a comic verve, but it winds up both running out of steam and increasingly falling back on dumb, questionable jokes. Some of these are ethnic; the group’s Latina and Asian members are both given a single dumb joke each, ones that both parody white ignorance of other cultures while reinforcing the ignorance in the form of easy yuks. Sometimes, as in the case of a walk-on from Snoop Dogg, there is no joke — just Snoop Dogg singing Christmas carols, which is, admittedly, at least half a joke. “Pitch Perfect 2” is hugely likable, and often exponentially funnier than it ever had to be, but no movie that so wastes Katey Sagal can be all good.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
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