2.5 out of 5 stars.
“Pitch Perfect” really didn’t need to turn into a trilogy. And chances are, it was probably never meant to be one. The 2012 comedy about an all-girls a capella group was a surprise hit, a super quirky, edgier version of “Glee” that both teens and adults could enjoy. It is, quite simply, a story about struggling university students trying to win a school competition. The sequel strayed too far away from its roots by placing the Bellas on the international stage, but “Pitch Perfect 3,” which is directed by Trish Sie, really struggles to recapture the magic while wrapping up each characters’ story.
At the end of “Pitch Perfect 2,” most members of the Barden Bellas a capella group who we followed through the first movie graduated college, so the third installment picks up with them trying to make it in the real world. Beca (Anna Kendrick) just quit a job producing music when the musician didn’t agree with her vision. Chloe (Brittany Snow) is trying to make it through vet school, while Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) doesn’t appear to have a job outside of occasionally performing on the street as “Fat Amy Winehouse.” It’s at a Bella reunion that the girls get together and realize they are all miserable with their post-college lives, so Aubrey (Anna Camp) suggests that her Army dad could get them on the USO tour, giving them a chance to go abroad and sing together one more time. They go, and quickly find that there is in fact a competition with the other bands on the tour, the winner getting the chance to open for DJ Khaled in a televised special. And while the girls have their voices, the other groups have instruments that easily overwhelm them.
Let’s start with the good. The film does have a lot of the weird humor the series is known for, and does it well, with some inside jokes for franchise fans thrown in here and there (like the references to Ashley and Jessica, two members of the Bellas who have been there all along but never get any screen time or character development). The music, from the riff-off involving all the competing bands to the Bellas’ big final number, is peppy and fun. And the finale is surprising emotional, providing a sense of closure for each of the characters (even though their happy endings all come about unbelievably easily). And all of them are back, with the exception of the guys; Jesse, Bumper, and Benji are all sadly missing from this film (Benji isn’t even mentioned), but the girls can more than hold their own without them.
With a running time of 93 minutes, this movie doesn’t have a lot of time to waste on unnecessary plot points, but it does. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are back as Gail and John, the witty and painfully honest/awkward announcers for all the a capella competitions, but they are really just here for nostalgia’s sake. We’re told that they are filming a documentary about the Bellas, which is why they are spending this movie following them around. Quite a bit of time is spent introducing the competing bands, including another girl group called Ever Moist, and how they automatically hate the Bellas because they just sing covers (even though that’s all we see these other bands do too), and how the Bellas hate them because they use instruments, which you’d think based on their reactions is a criminal act. But as the film progresses, this conflict disappears, and really isn’t an issue for the remainder of the movie.
This is mostly due to a subplot that involves Fat Amy’s estranged father, who shows up in the form of John Lithgow sporting a terrible Australian accent. He is some sort of drug dealer/crime boss whose attempts to reunite with his daughter end up involving her entire group. This backstory is also supposed to explain why all of a sudden the klutzy Amy can take out a bunch of highly-trained henchmen. This story goes absolutely nowhere. Not only does it distract from the main story, which is the singing competition and the girls’ trying to figure out their lives, but it’s completely off from what these movies should be. They’re about young ladies in a singing group. They don’t need criminal masterminds and explosions. The comedy and drama that the girls generate when they are interacting with each other is enough.
Fans of the first two movies will likely enjoy “Pitch Perfect 3.” It’s short, and for all its flaws it is entertaining. But let’s just hope this really is the final installment. I don’t think any of us want or need to see these girls trying to get their college band back together for the rest of our lives.
Runtime: 93 minutes. Rated PG-13.