Pitch Perfect 3 opens exactly like you’d think the finale to a comedy about a ladies’ a capella band would, with them belting out a rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” before leaping, slo-mo style, away from an exploding yacht.
Along with the burning wreckage so goes up a lot of what made the original film a surprise smash in 2012, one that inspired women, encouraged legions of a capella groups to form, and packed theaters for months with one sing-a-long screening after another. It was an ode to female friendship and infectious pop music, but that all pretty much evaporated with the wildly misguided sequel. Pitch Perfect 3 harmonizes with the first movie much better than the last one, but it’s so loaded up with unnecessary, muddled subplots that going out on a flat note is about all it can muster.
So what’s up with the yacht thing? Why does Pitch Perfect 3 look like a Michael Bay sequel at this point? Such as it is, screenwriters Kay Cannon and Mike White do attempt an explanation. The Bellas, now graduated from college and getting a taste of how sucky real-life is, are hungry for a reunion. When they get stiffed by former newbie Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), a cockamine plan to join the military’s traveling USO tour is cooked up by Aubrey (Anna Camp). For her it’s a chance to meet her busy father, for Beca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Chloe (Brittany Snow) and the others it’s a chance to sing together again. Um, entertaining the troops is somewhere much further down the list.
“There should always be a competition.”
If you were thinking the same thing as that worried Bella, then you’re on the right path. Of course there’s a competition, in which the gals must face off against a trio of legit bands (including one led by Ruby Rose) for the honor of being the warmup act for DJ Khaled. Take a shot every time someone says DJ Khaled and you’ll be doing drunk karaoke in the theater aisles before long. It’s like a 90-minute ad for…well, him.
And that is really the film’s biggest problem; it barely seems to be about the Bellas and them finding a way to continue their friendship into adulthood. If it isn’t focusing too much on DJ Khaled (Seriously, he’s like some sort of zen yoda producer master), it’s on the bizarre number of daddy issues amongst the group. Fat Amy’s father (John Lithgow) is an international criminal looking for a family reunion, while Aubrey longs for a reunion with hers. And even a marginal Bella like Stacy (Alexis Knapp) is pregnant by a guy who isn’t even in the picture. Other distractions include a uniformed love interest for Chloe and a chance for Beca to launch a solo career, leaving her girls behind in the aca-dust.
Director Trish Sie struggles with the severe shifts in tone, but nails it when the girls do what they do best, which is banter and sing. Of the biggest laughs most are when the script is super self-aware, like the aforementioned “competition” joke, or when it’s making fun of background Bellas like Jessica and Ashley (Shelley Regner and Kelley Jackle, both supremely talented btw). The a capella numbers are catchy and well choreographed, not surprising given Sie’s experience on Step Up All In, but you just wish there was more emphasis on it since that is what people came to see. The final act hits every note a fan of these movies could want, a heart-swelling number along with a beautiful montage of the series’ finest moments. So in that way Pitch Perfect 3 delivers a swansong worth listening to, but it probably won’t be a favorite on your playlist.