Pitch Perfect 3” (2017), now available for home viewing, is an unfortunately perfect example of a franchise that keeps going after it has run out of good ideas. Following the fun and catchy original (2013) and the ultimately winning sequel (2015), the third entry is a mishmash of a concept it doesn’t commit to, a jokey style that rarely results in laughs, characters who speak more about “family” than the “Fast and the Furious” crew yet don’t seem to like each other, and – most inexcusable – a soundtrack of forgettable tunes.
Director Trish Sie delivers a nice-looking movie on the surface, from the Bellas’ white- and red-striped costumes to the night lights of “southern France” (although the only listed filming location is Georgia). The girls – including Brittany Snow, Anna Kendrick and Hailee Steinfeld – are of course easy on the eyes, and they have nice voices. Oh, and it’s funny that a rival band’s name is Evermoist — credit where credit is due. But that’s the extent of what’s good about “Pitch Perfect 3.”
The screenplay stunningly is credited to Kay Cannon, who also penned the first two installments, and Mike White, who has apparently lost his touch since “School of Rock” (2003). Initially, the post-grad Bellas are invited on a USO tour, where they’ll perform for the troops. That somehow turns into a competition with other music groups to land a spot opening for DJ Khaled. Then Khaled – who for some reason has no entries on the “Pitch Perfect 3” soundtrack – picks Kendrick’s Beca for that coveted gig, based on her goofing around in his recording studio. There’s no conflict, since the other Bellas don’t hold it against Beca, and she invites them all on stage anyway. I assume Khaled is fine with that, although we don’t see his reaction.
On top of all this, Fat Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) dad (John Lithgow, for some reason) is evil, for some reason. So the Bellas infiltrate his yacht and distract him with a bland performance of Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” Meanwhile, Fat Amy saves the day with martial arts moves that had not been established as part of her character, and indeed contradict her previous comments expressing a proud distaste for exercise.
It’s all very dumb, but what’s worse is that there’s no sense of camaraderie among the Bellas – or among any pair of characters — despite endless lip service toward the “family” theme. The Bellas’ leaders make fun of two members of their own group, and Amy in fact serves them up to be harmed by her villainous dad. At another point, Amy isn’t sure what Aubrey’s (Anna Camp) name is – it’s meant as a joke, but it comes off as “Pitch Perfect 3” parodying the same bad movie it has become.
There’s almost a romance yarn between Beca and music manager Theo (Guy Burnet), but Kendrick doesn’t know how to play those scenes, wavering between flustered and dismissive. I get a sense that Sie is too quick to say a scene is good enough to print, but at the same time, there’s nothing about this script that suggests more takes would’ve helped it.
Worst of all, the songs aren’t memorable. There’s not a “Cups” or a “Flashlight” to be found. The finale, “Freedom,” stands out because it’s at least a full song (and despite the USO element, “Pitch Perfect 3” is lighter on the jingoism than I feared). Parts of the aptly named “Toxic” are shown twice, at the beginning and end. The mash-ups are so mashed up they don’t feel like songs at all; I can see why a full performance of the Cranberries’ anti-war anthem “Zombie” on a U.S. army base would be awkward, but then why tease us with snippets?
The acapella commentators – Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins – are doing a d’aca’mentary on the Bellas, yet being inexplicably mean to them with every word. (They also hate each other’s guts more than ever.) The first two films built a fantasy world where big-time singing competitions, complete with commentators, are taken for granted. “Pitch Perfect 3” doesn’t believe in itself for a moment, and the wonderful aca-fantasy evaporates, giving way to 90 minutes of sour notes.