Dave's Rating:

2.5

Songs about butts.

Pitch Perfect 2 begins with a crazy, performance-based, wardrobe malfunction, one that, in the film's words, exposes the "down under" region of one of the a cappella Bellas. For this accidental offense they are mocked, chastised, and stripped of most of their rights to perform and compete. If only Janet Jackson didn't exist, the searing hot shame heaped upon the entire group in the movie's first five minutes would more resemble exaggerated comic farce than, you know, how things actually are.

But the Bellas have been here before -- so has the audience, thanks to an imagination-bereft script -- and felt the scorn of the all-powerful world of competitive, collegiate a cappella. They shake it off and move on, finding loopholes in both the rules of eligibility and member recruitment to look forward to competing in the World Championships. No American team has ever won, but because this isn't a film made in 1975, guess who's going to break that losing streak?

Taking over directorial duties this time, producer and co-star Elizabeth Banks knows how fan service works, and she delivers a competent sequel to please them. The cast -- Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Hana Mae Lee, Chrissie Fit, Ester Dean -- returns, each one easing back into her established role, with Beca (Kendrick) and Fat Amy (Wilson) getting the best gags and solo song moments. Hailee Steinfeld joins the team as incoming freshman/aspiring songwriter Emily, probably to lay the groundwork for Pitch Perfect 3, something that will almost certainly come to pass.

Padding comes in the form of a corporate-retreat-style team-building montage; a rivalry with a generic, stern, Sprockets-style team from (where else?) Germany; romantic troubles for Fat Amy; an internship for Beca at a recording studio; and, best of all, a freestyle a cappella battle sequence that takes place in the underground lair of a complete stranger (played by David Cross), who has recruited some unlikely competitors and who demands that they all sing "songs about butts."

In the realm of comedy sequels, expecting improvement on an appealingly out-of-left-field first installment is like expecting to win the lottery. Second chapters like this are business decisions, not artistic visions. If your eyes are peeled for cameos by Cover Girl, Pantene, M & Ms, Voss water and Volkswagon, that'll become clear enough. But given that set of real-life circumstances, where abject failure is the most frequent outcome, Pitch Perfect 2 succeeds in ascending to the ranks of affectionate, slight, and reasonably funny second acts. It won't replace one moment of the original in any fan's heart or iTunes playlist. But it carries itself well enough. And there's a "Cups" shout-out. That's what you want, right? Or almost? At least?

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