Pitch Perfect is way off key

Good comic performances are wasted on a terrible story.

If only its screenwriters had brought some focus to their task, Pitch Perfect might have been a decent end-of-summer diversion. Instead, we get a mash-up of gross-out comedy, young adult romance, and broad caricature — but nothing that comes close to resembling cohesive, satisfying entertainment. A plot summary of the movie might reasonably describe it as being about a college’s all-girl singing group determined to dethrone the reigning champs of an annual a cappella competition. Which would be true save for the times when it’s barely that at all — or anything else.

For a movie whose title and storyline reference singing, Pitch Perfect doesn’t seem to regard music as much more than just another form that enables those with sufficient talent and ambition to get their moment in the spotlight. The gifted performers proudly refer to themselves as nerds, but their devotion isn’t sufficiently dramatized as a calling that gives each member the feeling of belonging, nor do we get the impression that they sing as an act of rebellion. While singing itself isn’t portrayed as uncool, the singers are inept in one way or another for no other reason than to generate laughs. Something that Pitch Perfect manages to do only sporadically.

Pitch Perfect strains for laughs through its outrageous-to-the-point-of-tedium characters — the upright girl who vomits when she’s nervous, the Asian girl whose normal talking voice is a whisper, and the funny fat chick, played by Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids). Wilson, employing her native Aussie accent, does well with her ridiculous character, the overweight ‘I’m sexy and I know it” kind of girl who’s quick with a dry putdown.

Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air, Twilight), wearing just enough eyeliner to register as “cynical and hip,” plays Beca, a Barden College freshman who loves making music on her computer but doesn’t want anything to do with the a cappella Barden Bellas. She also doesn’t want anything to do with school, but has made a deal with her dad — a professor at the college — to give it year before chasing her dream to make music in California. That is, until she’s confronted while singing in the shower and goaded into joining the Bellas.

Besides her decent singing ability, Beca’s main contribution to the group is her criticism of its song selection, which she deems to be outdated because it doesn’t include any current top 40 hits. But there’s nothing particularly revelatory about the group’s renditions of Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” or Jessie J’s “Price Tag.” The songs could have at least been put in the service of a dialogue between Beca and the guy friend who wants to be more than just friends.

By and large, the performances are funny — with the exception of the awful, smarmy scenes featuring John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks as hosts giving tacky play-by-play during singing competitions. But there’s no compelling story on which to hang the decent performances. Pitch Perfect flits from scene to scene, as light and inconsequential as the string of pop songs its various a cappella groups sing. For a film that offers glimpses of interesting characters, decent comedic performances and relationship drama, it’s a missed opportunity.