"Pitch Perfect 3" hits several wrong notes with a brutal encore
By: Steve Pulaski
The now commonplace tragedy of a once fresh film concept is, with every sequel, quality has likely dipped so profoundly that only visible are the vague remnants of what was once was so original. When Pitch Perfect was released in 2012, it surprised many with the longevity of its release combined with the quality of its writing and character dynamics. It wasn't the childishly written, Disney-fare that was populating cinemas in the form of films like Prom. It was a genuinely enjoyable film with personality to compliment its bold characters. Its inevitable sequel showed ware on the concept and hit some rather off-color notes, but still captured the spirit of its characters and maintained the level of energy that exploded whenever there was a musical number.
Now we have the swansong in Pitch Perfect 3, a crass embarrassment that cheapens the formula of its predecessors by turning the female ensemble into a plethora of shallow, catty stereotypes. With all the makings of a sellout sequel and a tired cast going through the motions of their characters, the film effectively discards the graces of its first two installments by emulating the brash exterior of "Fat Amy," Rebel Wilson's beloved character. It's adopted a premise with no limits, with no loyalty to the charm that made it such a joy to experience initially, and lacks dignity by selling itself short of its concept. It's one thing when you find a way to incorporate other a capella singing groups and key members of the Green Bay Packers into a film; it's entirely different when DJ Khaled pops up in one of the most useless supporting roles of the year and you trade lively musical numbers for ugly action sequences.
The story focuses on the Bellas after they've graduated college, now fumbling through Joe-jobs in hopes of becoming music producers, veterinarians, and "Fat" Amy Winehouse impersonators when they regroup to watch Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) and the "New Bellas" perform and realize they want to perform one last time. Aubrey (Anna Camp) suggests that her military father could get them an opportunity to perform in the USO, despite the fact they'll be competing alongside groups that play instruments for a chance to open DJ Khaled's concerts (this only a big concern if you haven't already noticed the presence of synths and beats that just magically enter the verisimilitude of the film when the Bellas start performing).
Meanwhile, our main character Beca (Anna Kendrick) just might get a shot at working with DJ Khaled after she uses his recording equipment to make a cleanly produced sample, while "Fat Amy" (Rebel Wilson) comes back in contact with her wealthy father (John Lithgow) out of nowhere. He appears with the perceived intention of patching up an estranged relationship until his true, money-motivated interests surface, leading to the Bellas becoming the gateway to his daughter. This is such a banal plot, made even worse by a terrible performance from Lithgow with a faux Australian accent, complimenting the artificiality of a subplot that makes no sense and fits in the film like a square-peg in a circle-hole.
Aside from an admittedly overlong "riff off" between the Bellas and several other oddball music groups that takes place at a naval station before the USO, and the obligatory third act performance, Pitch Perfect 3 features stunningly few a capella numbers. This is a stark omission made more obvious when it dawns on you how integral they were to capturing the energy of the young women: the routines, the choreography, the personalities of the women, and their talent all came through in those sequences. With this second sequel, they've been tossed away almost entirely in favor of a generic plot with awful supporting performances in Lithgow and DJ Khaled. One could also make the argument that the removal of most of the a capella numbers is the reason why the Bellas come across as more caricatured than ever. Not helping matters are screenwriters Kay Cannon and Mike White, who turn the women into cliquey, catty stereotypes that make them become one thing they never were in the previous films - unlikable. Not even the shamelessly insulting, sexist quips by a capella announcers (now documentarians) John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks) can save the film from itself as even they have evolved from being fresh, funny voices to atrocious talking-heads.
Pitch Perfect 3 makes a mockery of its talented female-cast and once original premise by turning it into a miserable pile of lazy cliches all for the point of a belated and frankly unnecessary encore. Yes, a final sendoff (or sing-off) with the Barden Bellas would've been nice, but as evident by the obnoxious writing and lazy plot, there was nary an attempt to make a genuine or a genuinely compelling swansong for the group. Instead, it was an opportunity to milk a cash-cow concept dry and that, more than almost any narrative or character flaw, is the most appalling wrong note of all.