By Roger Moore
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Who knew there was this much fun left in glee clubs so long after “Glee” jumped the shark?
“Pitch Perfect” is a frothy, funny, dizzy and derivative farce set in the competitive world of college a cappella groups — “Glee” without the soap opera or the sex, but stuffed with comic caricatures, hilarious one-liners and blessed with a cast that’s up to a little song-and-dance.
Sweet little Anna Kendrick, usually cast as too-young and in-over-her-head (“Up in the Air,” “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”) plays the cynical, rebellious would-be DJ and record producer who heads to Barden College at her dad’s insistence. That’s where she hooks up with the Barden Bellas, a hyper-competitive chorus that lives for the chance to take down a cappella’s national collegiate champs, the frat-boyish nerds of “Treble Makers.”
The Bellas don sexy stewardess uniforms — circa 1966 — and sing dated pop tunes in close harmony set to fetching choreography. Imperious Aubrey (Anna Camp) and perky Chloe (Brittany Snow) run the skinny-girls-on-parade show.
But this year’s version of The Bellas has a black lesbian belter (Ester Dean), an oversexed bombshell (Alexis Knapp), a disturbed, whisper-voiced Asian coed (comic Hana Mae Lee) and Fat Amy, a big, blowsy Tasmanian devil with “an Orthodox Jew pony-tail” rendered in broad, boisterous strokes by Rebel Wilson.
Beca (Kendrick), borderline Goth girl, fan of hip hop and mistress of her own remixes, doesn’t exactly fit in with these misfits.
There are auditions, rehearsals (done in goofy, well-cut montages), contests and a riff-off, where the various groups spontaneously tear through the modern pop catalog, from Kelly Clarkson to Bruno Mars.
The “big contest” formula means that this is a lot like every recent music or dance film, from “Drumline” to “You Got Served.” And it’s so much like “Glee!” they even insert a “Glee” joke or two, casting the bespectacled Christopher Mintz-Plasse in a big cameo that’s plainly meant to remind us of the kid in the wheelchair from the TV show.
But it’s not the plot or even the singing that sells “Pitch Perfect.” Writer Kay Cannon and her cast pepper this thing with zingers. It’s all “a cappella” puns — “a ca-people” mixed up in “a cappolitics” where a girl could get “pitch slapped.”
Wilson, of “Bridesmaids” and “Bachelorette,” lands a laugh every time she opens her mouth. And the whispering Hana Mae Lee reveals, with convulsively funny results, the dark layers to her demure, pony-tailed singer whose every soft- spoken word is disturbing. (“I set fires to feel joy.”)
There’s even a broadcast team for the contests, an add-on that produces double entendres and belly-yuks from John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks as two aged ex-gleeks with many a snarky take on today’s singers.
They pitched everything but the kitchen sink into “Pitch Perfect” — Donald Faison (“Scrubs”) shows up with an aged-out-of-college singing group that neither advances the story nor adds laughs.
The romance side of things (Skyler Astin plays Beca’s love interest) is a nonstarter, and the love interest’s magician/“Star Wars” freak roommate (Ben Platt) is plainly an afterthought. The villainous singer Bumper (Adam DeVine) may get sued for ripping off Jack Black’s shtick and demeanor.
But Kendrick never lets Beca become a “rebel girl” cliche. And Wilson never lets “Pitch Perfect” go more than a few bars between laughs. As pieced-together-by-committee as this sometimes feels, “Perfect” is never off-key.
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