It isn't easy to find a youth culture that the movies haven't already exploited to death. We're already familiar with break-dancing, cheerleading and even debating teams. But what about competitive a cappella?
That has potential, especially now that Fox's "Glee" has made the theater kids cool. "Pitch Perfect" seems keenly aware of pop-cultural currents -- it's directed by Jason Moore (Broadway's "Avenue Q") and written by Kay Cannon (NBC's "30 Rock") from a novel by Mickey Rapkin (a former GQ editor) -- but that ultimately undermines it. Though likable and energetic, the movie is so eager to put a finger on every pulse that it loses the rhythm.
Anna Kendrick plays Beca, a budding DJ reluctantly attending Barden University. Strolling the quad, she's recruited by Aubrey (Anna Camp) and Chloe (Brittany Snow), leaders of The Bellas, a team of a desperate a cappella losers. Across campus, cute freshman Jesse (Skylar Astin) joins the all-male Treblemakers, setting the stage for a Romeo-Juliet romance.
The cast is appealing: Rebel Wilson, of "Bridesmaids," has fun as the overconfident Fat Amy, while Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins get the most laughs as a pair of sardonic commentators. But like a teenager trying out identities, "Pitch Perfect" can't decide on one. Are the Bellas the "Animal House" of Barden U., or the "Mean Girls"? Is Beca the creative thinker bucking tradition, or the misfit learning to fit in? Are the Treblemakers really vicious misogynists (Adam DeVine plays their trash-talking leader, Bumper), or just shy nerds?
Another glaring problem: Nobody seems to have much of a voice. Kendrick sounds fine singing David Guetta's "Titanium" in the dorm shower, but her rap version of Blackstreet's "No Diggity" is, uh, not a showstopper. The whole movie, as Randy Jackson might say, is pitchy.
PLOT At a small college, boys and girls face off for the national a cappella championships.
RATING PG-13 (mild language, crude humor)
BOTTOM LINE An energetic cast livens up this overlong episode of "Glee," but the weak singing and wobbly script make for many an off note.