Honestly, “Pitch Perfect” could not be more of a “Glee” rip-off it were actually titled “A Glee Rip-Off.” Dear God, they even got the one cast member from ‘Spring Awakening’ who wasn’t in a singing TV show or movie yet. Based on Mickey Rapkin’s GQ articles about competitive collegiate a cappella (which does actually exist), “Pitch Perfect” has moved the action to college, taking advantage of the new milieu and adult rating to ditch adolescent angst and melodrama in favor of sharper gags and a stale competition plot to produce nothing.
It shouldn’t be, for all the mediocrity of the concept there are a lot of creative creatives behind the camera. Kay Cannon’s (“30 Rock”) script is often sharply, hilariously absurd filled with gross sight gags and sly wit. It should be meat for stage director Jason Moore (“Avenue Q”) making his feature debut.
It’s also got an excellent supporting cast with a feel for comedy, from Rebel Wilson (who the director obviously knows has the best comic timing of all his singers) to surprisingly Elizabeth Banks and unsurprisingly John Michael Higgins as a pair of unrepentant competition announcers who are completely at ease with Cannon’s most outrageous lines.
But nothing stamps out creativity and original voice like the Hollywood developmental process and boy does it show in “Pitch Perfect.” However funny it can be, and frequently is, at its heart “Pitch Perfect” is as complacent as can be. It is focused on a very typical underdog competition story as the Barden Bellas try desperately to meld a group of unlikely singers into a winning group. And at the center of that story is a very complacent heroine who gets few jokes and by design must be stand-offish from everyone around her.
Kendrick is a talented and charming actress, but a character with no punch lines in a comedy is always the least interesting and when your lead is the least interesting person in the group, you’re in trouble. It doesn’t help that she is often the focus of the film’s most cliché moments. She’s even discovered singing in the shower. It’s particularly noticeable in her frequent scenes with Astin as the young singer from the college’s OTHER a cappella group who is desperate to get past her icy front. A front which stays in place far too long, lasting until deep into the third act leaving Becca as a by-stander in her own story most of the time. The entire plot feels extremely haphazard, in fact, with bits like a group of aging a cappelletes looking for a fight coming out of nowhere. However funny they may be, they cannot hide a frequent feeling of treading water in between plot points, with the second act crisis in particular coming out of nowhere.
From time to time, particularly during the bravura musical numbers, “Pitch Perfect” truly does come together and the final competition is nearly worth living through the rest of the film. Nearly.
None of which is particularly bad. In fact, “Pitch Perfect” isn’t particularly anything. And that’s what’s most disappointing about it. That so many talented people could have worked so hard to produce something so nothing.