Posts Tagged ‘Pitch Perfect’

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In 2013, two dude-bro brothers named Mike and Dave posted an ad on Craigslist looking for dates to accompany them to a wedding. You likely heard the story, as the stunt quickly gained the viral ubiquity of our fleeting national attention.

And like clockwork, here we are three years later with an irreverent comedy based on Mike and Dave’s antics (an eventuality overtly prophesied in the Craiglist post in question). As the down-to-business title suggests, this is a movie about Mike and Dave, played by Zac Efron and Adam Devine, who need wedding dates, which they find in Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza through the miracle of the internet and daytime talk show television.

Both men are well-intentioned and affable manboys whose life-of-the-party aspirations are inevitably undone by flying too close to the sun. This premise is introduced in probably the only coherent and comedically consistent vignette of the film, as Mike and Dave’s family visits with a slide-show montage of their past destruction and a mandate to arrive to their sister’s upcoming nuptials with plus-ones in tow as a protective measure against their accidentally destructive nature.

There are a few more laughs to be had, but not many. The movie plays as if SNL devoted an entire episode to a single sketch: it’s largely improvised and occasionally funny, but most of the jokes fail to land and everything would be better with a few more celebrity cameos. To their credit, Efron, Devine, Kendrick and Plaza are committed to their bits, working overtime to squeeze a few more drops of comedy blood out of the stone that is the film’s outline of a script. But their performances are also grating, particularly Plaza, who is forced to relinquish her otherwise capable comedy timing in favor of a barely two-dimensional caricature of a “bad” girl playing nice.

At every turn “Mike and Dave” seems desperate to position itself as a spiritual extension of Wedding Crashers, going so far as to name-drop the earlier film in a particularly on-the-nose scene. But while leads Efron and Devine exhibit some of that Wilson/Vaughan chemistry, the surrounding film is severely lacking in the showmanship and ingenuity of better comedies.

It’s a failed attempt that barely entertains for its shorter-than-it-feels running time.

Grade: C+

*Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates opens nationwide on Friday, July 8.

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Pitch Perfect 2

As far as inevitable sequels go, the prospect of a second outing with the Barden Bellas seems like a pleasant, or at worst innocuous, idea.

The original Pitch Perfect, which leveraged intentional camp and toe-tapping pop songs to boost a story about rag-tag A Cappella singers, was a gonzo smash, extending far beyond its intended audience. It would seem like a relatively simple formula to follow but there’s the rub, as the script clings to the original with such ferocity that the sequel has little room to breathe, let alone sing.

After winning three consecutive national championships, the Bellas are riding high. But after a horribly ill-timed wardrobe malfunction at a presidential event shocks the nation, the Bellas are suspended from official A Cappella activities and barred from recruiting new members (all the Bellas are graduating seniors, because plot).

It looks like the end of the road for the group, except for an improbable loophole: should they succeed at winning the World Championships in Copenhagen, they’ll succeed at being reinstated. Unlikely, because as it is explained to them, Americans never win the worlds, because the world hates us.

That sets off the long and winding road to the competition and along the way they pick up a new Bella in the form of Hailee Steinfeld‘s Emily, the daughter of an alumna and therefore “legacy” Bella. The road is also filled with detours, as the threepete national champions are apparently so shaken from their fall from grace that it takes a series of failed side-performances and a mountain retreat in order to rediscover their “sound.”

Oh and Beca (Anna Kendrick) is distracted, having started a stressful and demanding internship at a recording studio that she keeps secret from her sisters for fear of looking unfocused.

Pitch Perfect 2 does many things right. Elizabeth Banks, who stepped in as director of the sequel, and once again deliver a series of knock-out one liners and Keegan Michael-Key brings a welcome mania to the role of Beca’s boss. The movie also wisely avoid the sequel pratfall of giving Beca and love interest Jesse (Skylar Astin) a slew of relationship drama, with the pair instead seeming as solid as ever.

The rest of the movie, however, could use some fine tuning. While there’s plenty to laugh at, long sequences drag on with only dull thuds and the entire proceedings reek of diminishing returns. First-time director Elizabeth Banks also shows her trepidation, relying on bulky transitions to move the plot along that would be much better left on the cutting room floor.

Pitch Perfect 2 is about 30 minutes too long, and yet despite its running time is able to introduce only a single new major character and sidelines the bulk of its returning cast. That’s because the film is so focused on replicating the winning ingredients of the first film — the Riff Off, the montage song, Bumper — that it ends up simultaneously overstuffed and hollow.

Outside the core triad of Beca, Fat Amy and Chloe I could not tell you the name of a single member of the Bellas, making the whole film feel like a modernized version of that dinner scene from The Hobbit.

When the final performance ends, there’s a sense of overdue relief. And because the Bellas now consist of a single Freshman student, it would take some major storytelling gymnastics to bring audiences back for a third, undesired, round.

Grade: B-

*Pitch Perfect 2 opens nationwide on Friday, May 15.

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Reviewing raunchy teen comedies is a difficult thing to do. On the one hand, they’re clearly not “good” movies. But on the other hand, I’m a firm believer in rewarding projects for meeting their objectives, whatever those objectives may be.

The simple reality of life is that not every movie can be, or should try to be, Citizen Cane. I thought Amour was spectacular, but after two hours of literally watching a woman die, slowly, before your eyes, a marathon of the Transporter franchise sounds like a warm blanket.

After sitting through 21 And Over, the latest entry from the post-Hangover “one-crazy-night” genre, I find myself a little at a loss for words. My expectations were exceeded and I was admittedly entertained…but I would never watch this film again and, frankly, could have gone for about 30 minutes less male nudity, projectile vomiting and screwball shenanigans. As such, I’m going to write this review a little differently.

The plot: High school best friends Miller, Casey and Jeff Chang (always referred to by first and last name, a funny albeit racially insensitive gag) reunite for Jeff Chang’s 21st birthday, which happens to fall on the eve of Jeff’s uber-important med school interview. Upon the insistence of Miller (Footloose‘s Miles Teller, who prattles incessantly like a bad Vince Vaughn impression), the boys ignore the stern warnings of Jeff’s father, deciding to go out on the town with the idea that they’ll take it easy and get home early so Jeff can rest up for the big interview in the morning.

The inevitable occurs with Jeff Chang getting blackout wasted after a balls-to-the-wall bar crawl that fills up ACT I and makes for the least interesting portion of the film. Strangers in town, Miller and Casey have to then find their way back to Jeff’s house, providing the MacGuffin for the movie and setting up the steady stream of escalating hi-jinx that ensue.

The good: Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect) keeps the show grounded as the likeable straight-man Casey. On paper he’s a combination of college-age cliche’s (the too-mature, never-has-any-fun-anymore business major, or essentially Breckin Meyer’s character from Rat Race) but Astin’s delivery of the movie’s best dialogue and the sincerity he brings to the completely nonsensical pratfalls the characters find themselves in is fun to watch. Conversely, Miles Teller simply never stops talking and so in the process manages to land on a few genuine laughs. Throw enough mud on the wall, some of it sticks.

The movie employs a nice blend of absurd college fantasy and practical relatability. The story gets mired for a while in a Sorority house (“Gee,” you say to yourself, “no one’s ever thought of doing that before!”) but moments later makes up for it with a late-night pep rally that involves, among other things, a wild Buffalo getting lose and later an all-night rager where our two heroes have to compete in a series of drunk idiot party games to advance up the “Tower of Power.”

The Bad: For a movie about a long night of drunk debauchery, 21 And Over actually over-extends itself with a number of unnecessary and, at times, tonally dissonant subplots. I’ll give them 10 minutes to address that the three friends have drifted apart over the years, but oh wait, Jeff Chang is overstressed and dealing with mental health issues and oh wait, we need to reconcile Ferris Bueller-style with Jeff Chang’s stern father, but oh wait, Miller is a college dropout who needs to wake up and take some responsibility, but oh wait, Casey is too responsible and just needs to chill out, and wait, there’s a love interest (natch). I get that all the pieces fit with a group of mid-20s millenials, but do we have to resolve every problem in these guys’ lives in one keg-standing night?

The big light-bulb resolution in ACT III is also overly lazy and convenient as the writers go for the same “It was there the whole time!” twist of The Hangover, only to a considerably less amusing and plausible result. Sara Wright, as the resident and obligatory crush is a pretty face, sure, but it’s hard to characterize her dry line-reading as “acting”.  Also Jonathan Keltz, as male cheerleader and romantic rival Randy, turns in a quirky villain with a pair of dimwitted cronies, but every time he appears on screen I found myself wishing I was watching Fired Up!‘s Dr. Rick instead.

Unavoidable Comparisons: 21 and Over is less than The Hangover but greater than The Hangover Part 2. It’s less than American Pie but greater than AP’s straight-to-DVD sequels. It’s far inferior to the 90’s opus Can’t Hardly Wait but also far superior to last year’s abysmal Project X.

Grade: B

*21 And Over opens wide in theaters on March 1

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