Synopsis: Following their win at the world championship, the now separated Bellas reunite for one last singing competition at an overseas USO tour, but face a group who uses both instruments and voices.
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Britanny Snow, Ruby Rose, John Lithgow, Ester Dean, Hailee Steinfeld, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, Kelley Jakle, Hana Mae Lee, Chrissie Fit, Anna Camp, Shelley Regner, DJ Khaled
Director: Trish Sie
Running Length: 93 minutes
TMMM Score: (3.5/10)
Review: In 2012, Pitch Perfect was an unexpected stealth weapon smash for Universal Studios. Arriving with very little fanfare in the midst of a busy fall season, the movie relied on good word of mouth to keep audiences buying tickets and coming back for seconds. It helps the movie was genuinely good, introducing actors and characters that were funny and appealing. Two years later, Pitch Perfect 2 was positioned as an early summer blockbuster and the results weren’t quite as memorable. A slack script, uninspired direction, and more than a few performances that looked like they were delivered under duress or as a way to pay off their backyard pool. It was your typical cash-grab sequel that offered no forward motion for its players.
Here we are in the waning weeks of 2017 and Pitch Perfect 3 has arrived, supposedly as a finale of a trilogy planned on the fly. While it corrects some structural mistakes from the first two films, it winds up suffering more than its predecessors as it falls prey to exhaustion and too-slick filmmaking. Fans of the series will likely find major joy in the final adventures of the all-female acapella group and welcome their return, but all others might be in for a stressful 90 minutes.
It’s been two years since the Barden Bellas have sung together and the troupe has scattered to live their post-grad lives. Becca (Anna Kendrick, The Accountant) and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson, Bachelorette) share an apartment in the big city and while Amy spends her days on the street performing as Fat Amy Winehouse, Becca continues to pursue her dream of producing music for the stars. Trouble is, she’s working with some less than talented characters, a troublesome position for someone clearly far more talented than the clients she serves. At a supposed reunion of the Bellas organized by senior Emily (Hailee Steinfeld, The Homesman), the ladies express interest in signing together one last time and, wouldn’t you know it, gung-ho former leader Aubrey (Anna Camp, Café Society) remembers that there is a big USO show starting up and her high-ranking military dad might be able to get them a spot.
Flying off to join the troops on a European tour, when they arrive they learn the show is doubling as an audition to open for DJ Khaled (I mean, who wouldn’t want to open for a DJ, right? Right?) at a big upcoming gig. It’s not long before the Bellas realize their acapella harmonies don’t stand a chance against the other acts which include a twangy country band, a soul singer, and an all-female rock band (led by the bewitching and underused Ruby Rose) that call themselves Forever Moist (ew). Jet lag hasn’t even set in before there’s the expected riff off between the groups and the Bellas, with the pre-recorded vocals being mimed pretty poorly by everyone in the movie, this has far less of the off the cuff energy that made the one in the original film so dazzling.
Sadly, there’s more to the movie and it involves John Lithgow (Intestellar) sporting an Australian accent so broad it should come with its own groaning laugh track and an out of left field kidnapping action film plot that feels like screenwriters Kay Cannon (How to Be Single) and Mike White (The D Train) got offered too much money to make a rumored Fat Amy spin-off happen. Can’t forget to mention that the snide color commentators from the first two films (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks) are following the ladies around trying to make a documentary (sorry, daccamentary) about their struggles to remain relevant.
Looking less pained than the previous film, Kendrick grooves with the movie and regains her star status after taking a back seat in the more ensemble-y sequel. Wilson is up to her usual schtick…is anyone else concerned that after all this time she’s still playing second banana in movies? It’s time for Wilson to take the lead because she has potential that continues to be squandered on lame physical humor. It’s nice to see Camp back in a larger role after having a glorified cameo in PP2 and Brittany Snow has a few pleasant moments as she allows her prefect outward façade to crack and show the vulnerability below the surface. Banks (Magic Mike XXL) and Higgins (A Million Ways to Die in the West) have been reduced to grotesque, mean-spirited caricatures that began the series as well-sketched comic critics. It’s a lowbrow end of the road for those two.
All of these quibbles might not matter because you might not be able to discern much of the action that’s taking place. Director Trish Sie has shot and edited her film so frenzied that it feels like it was assembled by rabid piranhas. Forget about the camera zooming back to catch the Bellas performances in widescreen. Nope, Sie favors quick shot close-up cuts and blink and you miss them wide shots. I’m not convinced the movie wasn’t shot in some warehouse in Pasadena because aside from locales that look like old Euro sets on the Universal backlot, most of the musical numbers have a sameness to them. Only a nice performance in the Brooklyn aquarium has any special feel to it.
On the positive side, the movie is 20 minutes shorter than the first two films and wisely keeps the men (including Adam DeVine, Skylar Astin, and Ben Platt) out of the mix. For a series that has nicely sung the merits of female empowerment, it was always strange that men played such a pivotal role up to this point. I’m even willing to forgive the inclusion of a leering producer with his eye on Becca because he factors so little into her overall arc.
Much like fans of Marvel, DC, and the Star Wars saga, the devotees of the Pitch Perfect series don’t want to hear the negative and that’s OK too. These three films have brought some musicality back to movie theaters and that’s totally fine in my book…I just wish these last two films had the same spirit of originality that launched the first one into the repeat viewing category.