Movie review: "Pitch Perfect 2" completely misses tone of charming original

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

One of the charms of "Pitch Perfect" was how unexpected it was. One of the worst things about its sequel is how calculated it is. It tries desperately to recreate that lightning in a bottle, but lightning doesn't strike twice - especially in bottles.

I know what you're thinking. Hey, bald male movie critic, this movie isn't aimed at you!Well, I did due diligence and finally watched the original this week. I found it wholly charming, funny and borderline irresistible.

"Pitch Perfect 2" feels like it was churned out of the Hollywood sequel machine, test-marketed to death and stuffed with product placement. It's got twice as many gags and half as many laughs. Almost everything I loved about the original is missing here, even though the sequel tries to mimic it.

If a comedy about collegiate a capella competitions doesn't scream "hit," the $100-million success of that comedy does scream "sequel," so original screenwriter Kay Cannon cranks out the requisite "bigger" sequel. Bigger is rarely better with a comedy sequel.

The first thing I noticed that "Pitch Perfect 2" gets wrong is that it loses the winking nod at the absurdity of a capella competitions being treated like rock shows. The preening arrogance of Bumper (Adam DeVine of TV's "Workaholics") was a great gag in the first movie. This one takes itself too seriously.

There's more screentime and a shift in attention to Rebel Wilson's breakout character Fat Amy, but it feels so much more forced. Wilson was perfect when she was coming in for comedic support. This feels like a forced attempt to push her center stage. (Wild prediction: Fat Amy spinoff is next and will be better than this.)

"Pitch Perfect 2" even manages to mute the charms of one of the most charming young actors working today, Anna Kendrick. Kendrick's Beca is saddled in a lame music internship side plot while the plot pushes new star Hailee Steinfeld into the sweetheart role.

Let's see, what else is wrong? The music shifts to modern pop and even (shudder) modern pop country. It also tries to recreate the "Cups" phenomenon, but this time its key original song "Flashlight" is shoved down our throat.

Co-star and producer Elizabeth Banks steps behind the camera to direct, but I think the problem here is how this stinks of Hollywood committee. The first movie called to mind "Bring It On" and even a little hint of a bubblegum "Heathers." The college coming-of-age side had an air of John Hughes - and even a working love story, unlike the two that are shoehorned in here.

"Pitch Perfect 2" feels more like an Adam Sandler ensemble like "Grown Ups" with an obnoxiously paced plot that sets up too many physical gags and cheap jokes. This sequel has definitely lost its pitch.

"Pitch Perfect 2"

Opens Friday

1 1/2 stars out of 4