There’s a Hollywood recipe for making sequels that you might call the “Hangover” technique. Take the same characters that were in the original, put them into the same situation, tweak slightly, then hope moviegoers don’t notice — or at least don’t care.
The greatest selling point of “Pitch Perfect 2” is that it doesn’t follow that lazy formula, and the result is a comedy that, if not always better than the first, is certainly more uproarious.
There’s only so much you can do with a movie about a capella singing. A competition is a must, and “Pitch Perfect 2” has one, along with all the infectious toe-tapping musicality. But the feature directorial debut from Elizabeth Banks also has a different, more bonkers feel than its surprise-hit predecessor.
The movie opens with the reigning champions of a capella, the Barden Bellas, performing at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the president’s birthday. What starts as a solid routine takes a surprise turn, however, when Fat Amy (perpetual scene-stealer Rebel Wilson), suspended above the stage, has a wardrobe malfunction.
Family-friendly entertainment suddenly turns into a detailed lesson on female anatomy, and before you know it, the pundits are weighing in on “Morning Joe.” The Bellas end up banned from the American a capella circuit.
There’s a loophole, though. If the ladies can win the worldwide a capella tourney in Copenhagen, they’ll be reinstated. That seems like a long shot — surprise! — given the stiff competition from Germany: the leather-and-mesh-clad, electronica-inspired Das Sound Machine.
The basic outline may sound familiar, but the movie isn’t really propelled by the narrative. We know we’ll end up in Denmark eventually, and meanwhile there are a lot of random detours inserted solely to provide laughs.
There’s the side plot with Beca (Anna Kendrick) getting an internship at a record label, inserted so comedian Keegan-Michael Key can do some improv and Snoop Dogg can sing a heartfelt rendition of “Winter Wonderland.” There’s the team-building nature retreat where bear traps provide slapstick comedy. And there’s the secret underground a capella competition, where David Cross very nearly runs away with the whole movie, playing a rich, eccentric music enthusiast who rides around on a scooter and pits the Bellas and Das Sound Machine against “the pride of Wisconsin,” Clay Matthews and the Green Bay Packers. The winner gets a $42,000 gift card to Dave and Busters.
And so on. The bizarre humor is much more in line with screenwriter Kay Cannon’s television work on “30 Rock” and “New Girl” than with her writing on the original “Pitch Perfect.”
The movie also has a more female-centric point of view, relegating most of the guys from the first go-round to bit parts, including former lead singer and romantic interest Jesse (Skylar Astin), whose role is now just the supportive boyfriend, showing up to ca-caw like a bird to Beca when she takes the stage. (No, it doesn’t make sense, but somehow it works.)
Meanwhile, new addition Hailee Steinfeld does solid work as Emily Junk, a clumsy legacy with a bright future in music. And considering all of the other characters are graduating, she may be the only one returning for the almost inevitable “Pitch Perfect 3.”
Normally the prospect of yet another sequel would be depressing. But after the delightfully oddball “Pitch Perfect 2,” the thought is kind of exciting: How much weirder could things at Barden University possibly get?
Three stars. Rated PG-13. Contains innuendo and strong language. 115 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.