PITCH PERFECT 3: Off-Key Threequel
Should future encores of Pitch Perfect take the stage, we can only hope they have a little more verve and imagination than this one.
Audiences duped into paying good money to see Pitch Perfect 3 can be forgiven for initially wondering if they’ve accidentally wandered into the wrong movie. The off-key threequel opens with a dizzying Technocrane shot that screams to be in 3D in towards a yacht “Somewhere off the coast of France” set to Bondian music.
On the yacht, the Bellas, conspicuously minus Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), are performing for Obvious Bad Guys. Suddenly Fat Amy crashes in through a skylight in true Batman fashion, and holds the OBGs at bay with a fire extinguisher. Explosions start detonating, and we freeze-frame as Becca (Anna Kendrick) and Fat Amy jump overboard. A title card tells us we’re going back to “3 weeks ago.”
Universal assassinating its own franchise
If you’re JJ Abrams, you can get away this sort of TV spy show cliché. Otherwise, you shouldn’t even be thinking about it. And probably needless to say, this is a radical departure from the format of the first two Pitch Perfect movies. Studios don’t usually try to assassinate franchises, but that’s exactly what Universal Pictures has done with their Pitch Perfect series. The movie has a grim self-awareness that this is the swan song for the Barden Bellas, and the odd thing is it’s premature.
Pitch Perfect 2, which also marked a credible directorial debut for producer/co-star Elizabeth Banks, made some key adjustments to the property formula which could theoretically extend its run for years. The tragically inept screenplay by Kay Cannon and Mike White for the most part disregards those adjustments and throws up its hands in dismay. The movie might as well start with an opening title card that says “We have no idea what we’re doing, but the girls will sing soon. We think.”
The problem that characters would inevitably graduate was largely solved in Pitch Perfect 2, which demonstrated the viability of introducing new characters, such as Hailee Steinfeld’s Emily, while bringing back key original characters as coaches, consultants and house mothers. Why else set Kendrick’s Becca at a local recording studio where she could realistically be brought back at a moment’s notice?
The romantic relationships established for Becca and Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect 2 are summarily dispensed with the sort of clunky expository dialogue that would seem arch in a daytime soap.
Uprooted threequel feels homeless
Whereas the first two movies in the series were essentially old-fashioned campus comedies with hefty doses of a cappella music numbers, none of this cruelly uprooted installment takes place at Barden College. Of course the Bellas went on the road in the first two movies, but this one feels somehow homeless.
A newly unemployed Becca and perennially unemployed Fat Amy join forces with their former Bellas, none of whose careers are going well, to take a slot on a Mediterranean USO tour, arranged for by Aubrey’s (Anna Camp) father, who’s like a Navy general or something. The movie is in a consistent state of continuity error as to what branch of the service the girls are performing for. The characters regularly reference the Navy, while all the uniforms say Army.
How current Barden senior Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), who is overloading on credits and about to take the GREs, can manage to just take off is one of the Swiss cheese script’s regularly scheduled logic lapses.
Once on the tour, the Bellas are faced with their co-performers – and instant rivals – who actually play instruments. The inevitable competition between the groups at least opens the door for a riff-off, where the movie however briefly, makes a welcome return to its roots.
Despite the Mediterranean story locations, nearly the entire movie was actually shot in and around Atlanta, and the effect is generally convincing.
John Lithgow and fake Australian accent unwelcome additions
A thoroughly unwelcome addition is John Lithgow as Fat Amy’s gangster father, whose unconvincing faux Australian accent remains a grating discordant note throughout. His plotline fits the Pitch Perfect formula about as well as a steel drum fits a string quartet.
Rebel Wilson is a force of nature, but even she can’t breathe much life into this subplot, which on the one hand is probably a little too heavy for a Pitch Perfect movie, and on the other, is being scripted by writers who can’t handle anything heavier. Co-producer Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins reprise their roles as a capella competition commentators John and Gail, but the snarky, sexist one-liners are getting old.
Because this is at least nominally a Pitch Perfect movie, a competition has to be involved, and this follow-the-bouncing-ball sing-along can’t help but telegraph the inevitable conflict for a major character. DJ Khaled, playing himself adequately, is looking for an opening act, and one of of the USO acts is going to be offered the gig. Audience members who have never seen a movie before will likely be surprised by the dilemma presented. Even they may not be surprised by the resolution.
Plot telegraphs most of its punches
Pitch Perfect 3 in fact telegraphs most of its punches – often the sign of an inexperienced or insecure director. Music video director Trish Sie is only helming her second feature here, and also hasn’t yet learned that unnecessary close-ups are generally jarring on the big screen.
Her refusal to rely on faces and feet during dance numbers is particularly disconcerting, given her background in choreography. The music numbers, which remain this movie’s only raison d’etre, are less entertaining than their counterparts in the first two installments, tending to confirm lingering suspicions that the studio and producers had given up on the property.
Pitch Perfect 3: Conclusion
The studio line is now that Pitch Perfect was always intended to be a trilogy, and it’s a line we ought to take with a grain of salt. There is absolutely nothing that would stop the franchise from resurfacing with a new cast, possibly including appearances by whatever former cast members need work most.
Whether or not that happens will depend more on this installment’s box office performance more than anything else, one would think. Should future encores take the stage, we can only hope they have a little more verve and imagination than this one.
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Pitch Perfect 3 was released in US and UK cinemas on December 22, 2017. Find international release dates here.
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