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Cinema: Pitch Perfect 2 & A Royal Night Out

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4 stars
Lightning almost strikes twice in the eagerly anticipated sequel to the feel-great comedy Pitch Perfect.

Actress Elizabeth Banks nestles in the director’s chair for this uproarious second outing and she confidently conducts a choir of familiar faces through soaring musical mash-ups and pitch-slapping putdowns.

Screenwriter Kay Cannon, who penned the original, enforces the message of femme power by contriving a spectacular fall from grace for the Barden Bellas in order that her plucky heroines rediscover their sisterly solidarity.

Beyonce’s anthemic Run the World (Girls) is a fitting opener for one medley of redemption, emphasising that while these girls wanna have fun, they won’t do so at the expense of friendships or their careers.

Cannon pads out her admittedly flimsy premise with parallel romantic subplots and introduces a Latin American exchange student, whose life-or-death heritage becomes a running joke that limps before the two hours are up.

Thankfully, Rebel Wilson turbo-charges her scenes and is rewarded with the film’s only solo – Pat Benatar’s power ballad We Belong – that builds to a rousing call to arms for the brokenhearted.

Three years after all-female group the Barden Bellas triumphed in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, the girls perform for President Obama and his wife.

Fat Amy (Wilson) suffers a wardrobe malfunction during a Miley Cyrus-themed aerial routine and drags the good name of Barden University into the gutter.

In the wake of the mishap, commentators John Smith (John Michael Higgins) and Gail Abernathy-McKadden (Elizabeth Banks) cast the Bellas into the wilderness and mock Beca (Anna Kendrick) when she claims they can become the first American group to win the World A Cappella Championships.

Beca, Fat Amy, Chloe (Brittany Snow), Stacie (Alexis Knapp), Jessica (Kelley Jakle), Cynthia-Rose (Ester Dean), softly spoken beatboxer Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) and new recruits Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) and Flo (Chrissie Fit) prepare for musical battle. However, the path to glory in Copenhagen is blocked by well-drilled reigning champions, Das Sound Machine, led by the statuesque Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) and her right-hand herr Pieter (Flula Borg).

The Bellas’ make-or-break performance beckons and Beca frets about her song choices.

“You’re the most talented person I know,” gushes Fat Amy soothingly, “and I’ve met three of The Wiggles . . . intimately.”

Pitch Perfect 2 hits many of the high notes of the original film.

Beca’s romance with boyfriend Jesse (Skylar Astin) is inert in the sequel, so the spotlight shifts to Fat Amy’s on-off-on-off flirtation with Bumper (Adam DeVine).

Banks and Higgins lasso some of the heartiest guffaws, the latter spewing chauvinism with aplomb as he casually describes the Bellas as “an inspiration to girls all over the country who are too ugly to be cheerleaders”.

Musical sequences are choreographed with verve, including a rousing finale that astutely goes back to acca-basics to tug the heartstrings.


The young Princess Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), centre, in A Royal Night Out

3 stars
In this celebrity-obsessed age of 24-hour social media and omnipresent paparazzi, it’s inconceivable that younger members of the Royal Family could mingle with us, the unwashed hoi polloi, without attracting attention.

Heirs to the throne would be engulfed by a sea of flashing smartphones, their every word regurgitated and scrutinised in 140 poorly punctuated characters.

Seventy years ago, Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen of England, and her sister, Princess Margaret, escaped briefly from Buckingham Palace to celebrate VE Day with the teeming crowds outside the royal residence. They mingled with their subjects, completely incognito, as the people of London marked the end of World War II with an exuberant evening of revelry.

Screenwriters Trevor De Silva and Kevin Hood use this true event as the starting point for a heartwarming comedy of manners, which propels the two princesses on journeys of self-discovery in a capital awash with carnal desire and potential danger.
A Royal Night Out is frothy fun, embellishing fact with outlandish fiction under the jaunty direction of Julian Jarrold, who previously unbuttoned the stifled emotions of the era in the 2008 remake of Brideshead Revisited.

The film opens with archive footage of Winston Churchill announcing the end of the conflict with Germany.

Jubilant crowds gather outside Buckingham Palace, where King George VI (Rupert Everett) is preparing a radio address with encouragement from Queen Elizabeth (Emily Watson).

Their daughters, Princess Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) and Princess Margaret (Bel Powley), yearn to celebrate with the people, but the Queen is resistant.

“We’ll be walled up in this mausoleum for the rest of our lives,” despairs Margaret. “I’m completely cheesed.”

Princess Elizabeth persuades her father to let them venture out for one night and the girls excitedly don their frocks, only to discover that their mother has arranged for two soldiers, Captain Pryce (Jack Laskey) and Lieutenant Burridge (Jack Gordon), to chaperone them at all times.

By chance, the princesses elude their escorts and head out into London on their own, where Elizabeth finds an unlikely protector: a deserter called Jack (Jack Reynor), who isn’t a fan of people of privilege.

“Family well-off by chance?” he asks, oblivious to his companion’s true identity.

“We manage,” replies Elizabeth tersely.

A Royal Night Out is timed perfectly to coincide with the 70th anniversary of VE Day and an air of wistful nostalgia blows through every frame of Jarrold’s perky picture.

Gadon is luminous in a restrictive role, while Powley has considerably more fun as the rebel who brandishes her superlative of choice – “Wizard!” – with plummy gusto.

Predominantly, the script opts for laughter rather than lamentation, and is careful not to offend with a simmering romantic subplot between Elizabeth and Jack. There’s nothing here that will have the filmmakers entering the Tower of London through Traitor’s Gate.