You can either thank or blame the “Glee” phenomenon for Pitch Perfect, the latest big-screen entry in the suddenly crowded market for musicals involving young people.
This one is a comedy set in the apparently ultra-competitive world of collegiate a cappella groups, but that hardly matters in a film that features a predictable pattern of the ragtag underdogs trying to win the big competition.
In this case, the story takes place on the fictional campus of Barden University, where Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a disenfranchised freshman who takes a job at the campus radio station to further her hopes of becoming a deejay.
That doesn’t meet with approval from her father, a professor who encourages Beca to become involved in more campus activities. So she joins an a cappella group known as the Bellas, a collection of outcasts controlled by a lead singer (Anna Camp) who insists on performing outdated songs during competitions. Meanwhile, Beca is pursued romantically by Jesse (Skylar Astin), a member of a rival group.
The script by Kay Cannon (TV’s “30 Rock”), based on the nonfiction book by magazine columnist Mickey Rapkin, strains to be edgy while adhering safely to broad quirks and crowd-pleasing formula, with the group enduring all sorts of conflicts leading up to the inevitable big finale.
Director Jason Moore, a Broadway veteran making his feature debut, keeps the pace lively and knows how to choreograph and stage production numbers. However, when the dialogue turns from singing to speaking, the film struggles. It’s not clear whether moviegoers are supposed to laugh at these characters or laugh with them, and viewers might feel caught somewhere in between.
Most of the cast looks too old, for starters, but Rebel Wilson (Bachelorette) steals her scenes as a sassy and self-deprecating Australian singer who calls herself Fat Amy. John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks provide the occasional spark with their sarcastic banter as television commentators.
As expected, the musical numbers are the highlight, with harmonious a cappella renditions of pop songs covering almost a half-century, including everything from The Lovin’ Spoonful to Ace of Base to Flo Rida. Often it feels like a soundtrack in search of a movie.
Pitch Perfect makes a halfhearted attempt to be hip and cool, but more than anything, the film wants to be like its characters and just fit in.
Rated PG-13, 112 minutes.