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Review: Girl power! ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ hits those sweet notes

This photo released by Universal Pictures shows, Anna Kendrick, left, as Beca, and Hailee Steinfeld, as new Barden Bella Emily, in a scene from the film, "Pitch Perfect 2." (Richard Cartwright/Universal Pictures via AP)

“Who run the world? GIRLS!” sing those irrepressible Barden University Bellas, channeling Beyonce, in “Pitch Perfect 2.”

And yes, they sure do run the world.

The highly anticipated sequel to the 2012 surprise hit “Pitch Perfect” is now, more than ever, a celebration of girl power, girl bonding, girl harmony, and most of all, girl laughs. As the Beyonce song goes on to say, “Boy, don’t even try to touch this.”

That should be good news for the many, many young women who loved the infectious “Pitch Perfect.” And really, all the news is good about this sequel: It is, if anything, funnier than the original. It brings back all your favorite folks, most notably the sweetly geeky and adorable Anna Kendrick and the bawdy, nothing-is-sacred Rebel Wilson, whose Fat Amy gets more screen time and makes the most of it.

There’s also a new addition, Hollywood it-girl Hailee Steinfeld as an aspiring songwriter. Aside from injecting new blood into the Bellas, she’s pretty much the only one who doesn’t graduate college by the end of the movie — significant for future sequels.

The other important change of note is that “Pitch Perfect 2” is directed by actress Elizabeth Banks, who also produces AND reprises her role as Gail, half of one of the most hilarious broadcast teams ever conceived, real or fictional. Her scenes with the cheerfully racist and sexist John (a sublime John Michael Higgins), narrating the Bellas’ various competitions, are the film’s highlight. “This is what happens when you send girls to college,” he says disapprovingly at one point. He describes the Bellas as an “inspiration to girls all over the country too ugly to be cheerleaders.”

We begin with our Bellas giving a command performance at Lincoln Center for President Barack Obama’s birthday, no less. All goes well until Fat Amy’s spandex pants rip. She’s suspended in the air, and she’s not wearing anything underneath. The theater erupts in shock. Newscasts go wild over the portly Aussie’s “birthday gift from Down Under.” A jittery public is assured that the government has “ruled out terrorism.”

The disgraced Bellas are suspended from competition. But the ever-practical Beca (Kendrick) finds a loophole: if they can win the WORLD championships, will they be reinstated? Sure, they’re told, like THAT would ever happen.

Their biggest competition: Das Sound Machine. These European champions are terrifying in their perfection, their production values and their general awesomeness — and their disdain for the Bellas. “I don’t speak Loser, what did you say?” their lead singer (an imposing Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) says icily. Beca is horrified but helplessly smitten with the Heidi Klum lookalike. “Your sweat smells like cinnamon! ” she cries.

The groups first compete at an epic “riff-off” which recalls one in the first movie, only much more elaborate, as happens in sequels. Among the groups competing: the Green Bay Packers. Yes, THOSE Green Bay Packers. (Turns out they’re huge fans of the franchise, and not too shabby at a cappella.)

The Bellas sure have their work cut out for them. Meanwhile, busy Beca’s secretly moonlighting with an internship at a recording studio. (By the way: do these people ever have, like, schoolwork?) She’s also still dating boyfriend Jesse (Skylar Astin), but the relationship feels like a total afterthought here.

The script by Kay Cannon and Mickey Rapkin keeps the rapid-fire jokes coming. A throwaway reference to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is hysterical. Much less funny is a no-means-yes sex joke; we could have done without that one, particularly in a college setting.

It all comes down to a huge final confrontation before thousands of fans. It’s panache and polish (Das Sound Machine) vs. spunk and spirit (the Bellas). And, of course, these girls have a few surprises up their sleeves. Remember what Beyonce asked:

“Who run the world? Girls!”

“Pitch Perfect 2,” a Universal Studios release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “innuendo and language.” Running time: 115 minutes. Three stars out of four.

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MPAA definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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Follow Jocelyn Noveck on Twitter at http://www.Twitter.com/JocelynNoveckAP

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