If you liked the early episodes of Glee and then thought it slid from easy-listening fun to shrill camp, you'll know what I mean when I say that Pitch Perfect, an in-your-face campus comedy, seesaws from cringeworthy to irresistible and back. Beca (Anna Kendrick), an aspiring music producer whose laptop is filled with homemade beats and mash-ups, arrives as a first-year student at Barden University, where she thinks she's landed on a foreign planet. Everyone not only belongs to an a cappella group but treats squeaky-clean pop singing as a kind of sorority initiation rite, complete with the icky tendency to put "aca" (as in "a cappella") in front of other words ("I think that we're gonna be aca-awesome!").
Pitch Perfect is a scattershot, annoying cartoon, yet for every performer who makes your teeth hurt, like Anna Camp as the barf-prone control-freak leader of the Barden Bellas, there's one who makes you grin, like Rebel Wilson as the tart-tongued Fat Amy. And Kendrick, in her first front-and-center lead role, has a skeptical and wryly alluring presence that helps deflate the kitschy bitchery.
The plot isn't much: The Bellas join the Southwest Regional Competition, gunning for the finals at New York's Lincoln Center while doing their best to avoid the taunting entreaties of the Treblemakers, the reigning campus boy group. Without the music, the movie might have been painful, but the songs, Auto-Tuned and processed as they are, generate a hooky bliss. They're the chewy center of this ultra-synthetic hard candy. B-