"PITCH PERFECT" — ★★★1/2 — Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Skylar Austin, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks; PG-13 (Sexual material, language and drug references); in general release
Cheeky and snarky but with an infectious energy, "Pitch Perfect," a comedy set in the cutthroat world of competing college a cappella groups, makes us fall in love with the very thing it's making fun of. It's ridiculous and predictable but also just a ton of fun, so you may as well give up and give in to your inner musical theater geek.
The debut feature from director Jason Moore (Broadway's "Avenue Q") and writer Kay Cannon ("30 Rock"), based on the non-fiction book by Mickey Rapkin, feels like a mash-up of "Glee" and "Revenge of the Nerds," with a broad soundtrack ranging from David Guetta and Bruno Mars to The Bangles and Simple Minds. Some performances will make you smile; others will give you chills.
And speaking of mash-ups, that's exactly the genre that forces the film's female singing group out of its comfort zone of conservative choreography and corny vocal arrangements. Their reluctant catalyst is Beca, an antisocial, aspiring DJ played by Anna Kendrick; this is an amusing irony in contrast with Kendrick's usually sunny, Type-A screen persona, and given her off-screen Broadway musical bona fides. She hasn't really, truly sung in a film since 2003's "Camp," and it's a joy to see her reveal this side of her talent again. Under the dark eyeliner and surly attitude, her smarts and likability shine through.
Freshman Beca is part of a rag-tag class of recruits who join the Barden University Bellas, perky young ladies who dress like flight attendants, adhere to a rigid set of rules and have super-secret, sorority-style rituals. (The audition process, in which everyone is forced to sing the Kelly Clarkson anthem "Since U Been Gone," is edited so beautifully, it feels like a fresh take on the tried-and-true, bad-first-date montage.) The Bellas' leader is the meticulous, tyrannical Aubrey (Anna Camp); a redheaded Brittany Snow is her flirty and more forward-thinking right-hand woman.
It's their goal to knock off the school's rival guy group, the Treblemakers, and win the national championship. John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (who's also a producer on the film) are hilarious as the broadcast team providing inane, slightly naughty commentary at every stop along the way. Their bits feel natural, unpredictable and ad-libbed, like something out of a Christopher Guest mockumentary.
But the whole supporting cast is strong and well-chosen, with nearly every actor getting a chance to provide off-kilter comedy. An outrageous Rebel Wilson, who was so great last year as Kristen Wiig's roommate in "Bridesmaids" — and whose character here nicknamed herself "Fat Amy" — gets many of the film's crudest and best lines, while the wonderfully odd Hana Mae Lee steals her share of scenes in her own quiet way.
Skylar Astin has a confident, easygoing manner as the Treblemaker member who dares to engage Beca romantically (despite a temporary and contrived hitch, you know where their relationship is going), while comedian Adam DeVine is perfect as the arrogant idiot named Bumper who runs the guy group. If this were a Greek fraternity, he'd be the dude doing keg stands. (And while we're on the subject of adolescent antics, a recurring projectile-vomit joke was unnecessary even the first time. "Pitch Perfect" seems too sharp for that.)
Still, the movie as a whole is so irresistible, you may find yourself singing some of its insanely catchy tunes — like Ace of Base's "The Sign," which is so evil and is used so often, it becomes a major plot point — long afterward.
"Pitch Perfect" is rated PG-13 for sexual material, language and drug references. running time: 112 minutes.