The third outing in the “Pitch Perfect” franchise is like a pop song remix that retains some of what you love about the original, while throwing in an out-of-nowhere bridge and an unwelcome guest verse. “Pitch Perfect 3” has plenty of Rebel Wilson‘s Fat Amy, female bonding and a cappella covers of every song you love dancing to at weddings (“Cake by the Ocean,” anyone?), but it has an overloaded plot in its script from Kay Cannon and Mike White. Fans will leave the movie emotionally satisfied – particularly thanks to a nostalgia-inducing credits montage – but scratch their heads over a screenplay that has the Bellas fighting a crime lord. Adding this genre element is like one of the Bellas own signature mashups, but with none of the skill or the smooth transitions.
Beyond Wilson’s always-on performance, “Pitch Perfect 3” is at its best when its at its most self-aware, with characters saying winking lines like, “There should always be a competition,” and “That was a lot of exposition,” and joking about the lack of importance of Jessica (Kelley Jakle) and Ashley (Shelley Regner). DJ Khaled even plays a version of himself that feels like a parody in the best of ways. The film knows that “Pitch Perfect” and its sequel were formulaic, and this one attempts to diverge from the path. However, this third entry has blown that path up with C4, without acknowledging that “Pitch Perfect” fans aren’t here for explosions and kidnapping. The series is an ode to female friendship and pop music, and “Pitch Perfect 3” fails because it tries to do too much while not focusing on what people love.
After graduation, the Bellas are eager for a reunion, and a poorly edited montage reveals that they each are unhappy in their lives. Aubrey (Anna Camp) offers that they can go on a USO tour, providing entertainment for the troops and singing together one more time. The competition begins when they learn that DJ Khaled will be asking his favorite of the performers to open up for him at the last show of the tour, pitting the Bellas against three other groups with Beca (Anna Kendrick) campaigning hard for the group to win the honor. Meanwhile, a figure from one of the women’s past shows up, and his intentions may not be entirely pure.
Cannon and White are both talented screenwriters, but they’ve created a monster with “Pitch Perfect 3.” It runs just 94 minutes, but in addition to the action-packed crime subplot, they pack in an underdeveloped romance for Chloe (Brittany Snow), a wonderfully weird flirtation for Lily (Hana Mae Lee), daddy issues for Aubrey, an ethical dilemma for Beca and more.
This is director Trish Sie‘s second film after “Step Up All In,” though she may be better known for OK Go‘s genius treadmill-centric video for “Here It Goes Again.” The musical moments are strong (other than one with overhead shots that shows choreography no one present for the show could actually see), but she’s not able to master the tonal shifts, which would challenge even a more experienced director. “Pitch Perfect 3” has no idea what it is or what it’s about, but it’s buoyed by lively humor and line delivery from actresses who have spent a lot of time with these characters. Wilson manages to mine more humor out of her character, though Lee’s Lily threatens to steal the spotlight at times.
Fans may think I’m being as bitchy as Gail (Elizabeth Banks) and John (John Michael Higgins) – who are one of this film’s weak points – but as someone who loved the original movie, this simply can’t reach its high notes. It’s not unpleasant, thanks to the energetic dialogue and songs, but it lacks the fun and focus that made “Pitch Perfect” such a surprise hit worthy of repeat viewings. [C]