Pitch Perfect

Pitchperfect

Movie review by Greg Carlson

A painfully unfunny movie that sticks to formula like Enfamil, “Pitch Perfect” has all the authenticity and verisimilitude of the Fiji mermaid. The sharp-eyed Anna Kendrick, taking a big step down from the quality of her recent roles, trades supporting status for a headlining turn, but her character displays no distinguishing features or personality traits. Kendrick’s Beca, a faux-rebellious wannabe music producer who reluctantly enrolls at the college where her father works, joins a competitive all-female a cappella group that can only exist in the cotton candy imagination of Hollywood. The members of the Bellas take a vow not to date any members of the all-male rival Treble Makers, but Beca falls for the handsome Jesse (Skylar Astin) faster than you can say “Romeo and Juliet.”

Building the structure of its narrative on the template popularized in low-stakes competition laffers like “Bring It On” and “Dodgeball,” “Pitch Perfect” even apes the former’s affinity for manufactured slang and the latter’s convention in which a pair of dysfunctional commentators banters through the performances, nattering away as if in some other, funnier film while carpet bombing their scenes with double entendre. John Michael Higgins, whose singing and arranging experience mark him as an obvious choice, and producer Elizabeth Banks, do the honors in the broadcast booth. Other than Kendrick, only Rebel Wilson escapes anonymity among the Bellas. Wilson continues her run as an indispensable generator of empathy in a society seemingly hell-bent on the ridicule of the overweight. As Fat Amy, Wilson walks off with every scene in which she appears.

Like “Glee,” “Pitch Perfect” depends on the razzle dazzle of its pop song choices, and only a handful of the tracks selected for vocal arrangement have cross-generational appeal. The movie crushes hard on John Hughes, returning several times to a motif revolving around “The Breakfast Club,” but director Jason Moore doesn’t hold a candle, let alone sixteen of them, to the legendary 80s auteur of angst. To win back the heart of her boy, Beca belts “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” but the thrill is blunted by an earlier scene in which the heroine weeps while watching Judd Nelson freeze mid-step with his fist raised in triumph. It’s never a good idea to include a clip reminding viewers of a much better film.

Given the bland, uninspired tone of “Pitch Perfect,” it is only a small surprise when Moore includes a scene in which Bella leader Aubrey (Anna Camp) empties the contents of her stomach all over the floor of the choir’s rehearsal space – a reprise of the embarrassing onset of nervousness that cost the singers a trophy during their last competition. The gushing fountain of vomit splatters and sprays everywhere, and Moore cannot resist adding additional gross-out gags, including a high-angle view of one of the Bellas slipping and falling in the foul, lumpy spew. The amateurish puking effects even fall short of the tube-in-the-sleeve technique beloved of “Saturday Night Live,” but the rancid disgorgement only serves to remind viewers that successful gross-out humor ala “Bridesmaids” is not easy to replicate.

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