“When I was nine years old, my brother tried to sell me for chickens.” Flo (Chrissie Fit) is trying to be helpful. New to the a cappella group called the Bellas for Pitch Perfect 2, she’s sad for her compatriots, all woe-is-me-ing after they’ve been banned from a cappella singing competitions. Flo’s contribution to the group — apart from vigorous acrobatics and indistinguishable background vocals — is her embodiment of non-first world problems. Hence the joke about her brother and chickens.
This is the start of a sequel to a movie that made great jokey hay out of privileged college students’ navel-gazing. Again and again, Pitch Perfect made fun of girls whose mission in life was to win a trophy in a decidedly obscure performance genre. Now renowned and repeated champions, they’re faced with the apparently unbearable ignominy of being kicked out of the a cappella sub-sub-culture for an inadvertent lewd display by Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) at film’s start. “The whole world hates us,” the Bellas moan, suggesting that they have a concept of the whole world that they don’t.
To become reinstated, the Bellas must win the Worlds, which means a trip to Copenhagen (and no, they don’t know where it is) and coming up with a killer new performance to insure that everyone everywhere knows why they’re the best. In other words, the movie strives mightily to create some stakes for the Bellas, and more to the point, you, in order to deliver a series of a cappella performances that are not a cappella at all, but amplified with all sorts of orchestration, catchy percussion, and on-beat editing. As before, these montagey events include acrobatics (Flo flips and cartwheels through backgrounds), matching costumes, flashing lights, and, when they arrive in Copenhagen, umbrellas.
These performances are buttressed by various terminally uninteresting conflicts prolonging the film’s running time. First up, suppressed drama between Chloe (Brittany Snow), who wants nothing more than to be a Bella forever, and Beca (Anna Kendricks), who pursues a life beyond the Bellas by interning with a dreadful music production company headed by an unnamed boss (Keegan-Michael Key). As soon as Beca comes on board to make coffee and listen in on creative meetings, the boss announces they’ll be producing a Christmas album by Snoop, during whose recording of “Winter Wonderland” Beca reveals she can sing and mash-up, which you know already. (Snoop, too, does what you’ve seen him do before: “It’s groovy like a drive-in movie,” he says of his own work.)
Still, you might hope she succeeds because, you know, the Bellas are too old to be in college anymore. It’s time for everyone to move on, or maybe just set up another sequel, managed here not in the new member Flo but in the privileged white girl legacy pledge Emily (HaIlee Steinfeld). Her mom, Katherine Junk (Katey Sagal), brings her to campus and stays just long enough to provide utterly vague allusions to happy olden days and a last name that occasions predictable jokes. Still, Emily’s arrival creates a moment of panic, as she wants to write her own songs and all the Bellas do is cover, which, again, you know already.
Indeed, the new movie seems awfully like a combination cover and mash-up of the first movie, repeating in its structure what the plot also repeats. Here again, they face a mighty ultimate opponent, in this case Das Sound Machine, whose gigantic Aryan frontpeople, Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) and Pieter (Flula Borg), occasion jokes about mechanical Germans and Beca’s apparently irrepressible crush on the “physically flawless” Kommissar. Meanwhile, Jesse (Skylar Astin), her boyfriend from the first movie, remains on scene, mostly as background, driving her to a job interview, holding up the American flag at the Copenhagen show, and reminding her (and you) how great she is because otherwise she and you might forget.
The repeating includes brutal commentary from the competitions narrators, John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (this film’s director), reprising everything they did already. It also involves the random shows, these, of course, being the raison d’être in movies about kids putting on shows. Here the shows are awesomely random, sometimes appearing between scenes so unrelated that you might wonder if your projectionist has dropped a reel, except that the current screening technology doesn’t have reels. While you might rationalize why the Bellas go scope out Das Sound Machine at a car show (product placement) or rehearse during their retreat in the woods so they can rediscover their “harmony” via montages, it’s harder to make a case for an underground contest hosted by David Cross in a silk robe.
As the most nonsensical scene in a film full of them, this one offers Das Sound Machine and the Bellas and the Treblemakers competing in cover categories like “Songs About Butts” (how long do you think it takes for someone to get to Sir Mix-A-Lot?) and “I Dated John Mayer”. One of their rival groups is the Green Bay Packers, which is to say Clay Matthews and some good sport offensive linemen. It’s not a terrible thing to see Matthews perform “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly,” but it’s not exactly worth the price of admission, either.
Like so many other scenes here, this one’s primary function may be to get you wondering — even more than you have before — just what the Packers might have to do with a cappella or what Pitch Perfect 2‘s a cappella has to do with singing. But then Flo reminds you that she still might be deported and that she might die at sea during her reentry attempt. Then you remember, in the Bellas’ world, nothing has anything to do with anything.