The wittiest bit in Pitch Perfect 2 comes literally as the film opens, with the podcasting musical commentators played by Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I) and John Michael Higgins (A Million Ways to Die in the West) a cappella-ing the Universal fanfare. And then it goes downhill from there… at least as a comedy. Competitive a-cappella all-girl singing group the Barden (University) Bellas are back for more of the same they gave us in the first film: some sweet sisterhood engaging in “proud female tradition” via truly fantastic musical performances, all of this good stuff dragged down by awkward attempts at humor that lazily trot out embarrassing ethnic stereotypes, gendered shaming that is inexcusable in a movie all about women (adult female human beings have pubic hair; deal with it), and fat “jokes” that are not rendered “okay” because the actress dishing them out is fat herself. (Someone please get Rebel Wilson [Pain and Gain] a script that does not focus on her body.)
This time, the Bellas are getting ready for an international competition that no American team has ever won, going up against a German group that has become their nemesis. (Quick, write down the first couple of hackneyed clichés about Germans that spring to mind; that’s what returning screenwriter Kay Cannon did in creating “Das Sound Machine.”) No one onscreen seems comfortable with grossout humor, and new-to-the-series director Banks appears to agree with such cringe-inducing lines of dialogue accompanying it as “Sorry, that was crass, wasn’t it?” and “You know that this sets women back like 30 years?” because it all falls flat even grading on the grossout curve. If only the movie trusted in itself enough to focus more on things like the musical mentoring team-up of Anna Kendrick’s (The Last Five Years) graduating senior and Hailee Steinfeld’s (Begin Again) new freshman Bella, which isn’t anything we’ve seen onscreen before, or on the character comedy between Kendrick and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as DSM’s leader. They have wonderful comic chemistry that could have used some more indulging.