The Bellas are fun, but ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ hits many sour notes
Directed by: Trish Sie
Written by: Kay Cannon and Mike White
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hailee Steinfeld, Hana Mae Lee, Chrissie Fit, Elizabeth Banks, and John Michael Higgins
“Pitch Perfect 3” – “Three Is a Magic Number” – Bob Dorough, “Schoolhouse Rock!”
The Barden University Bellas, or better known as the Barden Bellas, hope that three is their magic number in 2017, as these a cappella ladies – led by Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) - arrive in theatres in “Pitch Perfect 3”.
Their initial leap on the big screen in 2012 was a critical and box office hit, and the 2015 follow-up admittedly meandered, but packed enough jokes and even some Green Bay Packers to offer an entertaining trip to the movies.
The first two pictures ran 112 and 115 minutes, respectively, but this third installment sprints for just 93, which should act as a red flag for the audience. Although the very likable Bellas are back for a new adventure, writers Kay Cannon and Mike White disappoint, because they scripted an unfulfilling story that is thinner than Emma Stone on a hunger strike and carries less gravitas than Justin Bieber’s 13th birthday party.
It is a film that diehard “Pitch Perfect” fans will somewhat embrace, because the ladies strike their familiar comedic and musical chords, easily pull some laughs from the audience and clasp their warm on-screen comradery. At the same time, without a worthy script, their cinematic magic runs on fumes, and three – instead – becomes a crowd.
These days, our Bellas are not attracting big raucous crowds, as they have graduated college and are trying to make their livings by starting their own businesses or coping with difficult entry level jobs. Thankfully, Aubrey’s (Anna Camp) father has a big time post in the U.S. military, and he scores the Bellas a spot on a USO music tour. The tour also doubles as a competition, and the winning musical group gets an opening act slot with hip hop star DJ Khaled! Pretty cool.
The problem is the other acts are bands who play instruments. The Bellas may be outmatched and out of practice, but are not out of the running, as they strut their stuff during a picturesque four-country European tour. When they are not whipping through well-choreographed routines and perfectly crooning to some recent and not-so-recent favs, director Trish Sie unfortunately dives the ladies into forgettable exchanges with even more forgettable supporting characters.
Chloe (Brittany Snow) forms an instant crush with a random military escort. Beca occasionally converses with a bland music executive, and Fat Amy reunites with her long-lost dad (John Lithgow). Fergus (Lithgow) becomes the most important side player, as he tries to extort money from his daughter that involves the entire Bella-contingent during the third act in a tacky action-adventure storyline that would have been rejected by the “Night Rider” (1982 – 1986) writers. Oh, apparently, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) – who is still enrolled in school - has some upcoming exams, because Sie found it important to mention at least twice. While we are on the subject of numbers, this critic only counted three countries in the four-country USO tour, but if the Bellas score a win, who cares about the details, right?
When do they have time to practice? Never mind, I digress.
Well, the movie’s point is to simply celebrate these memorable characters – who also include Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), Flo (Chrissie Fit), the antagonistic announcers Gail (Elizabeth Banks) and John (John Michael Higgins), and more – in a victory lap, but the filmmakers did a disservice to this ensemble by forgetting to include a proper story. Sure, there is enough nostalgia here for even casual fans to enjoy, but thoughts of better films in 2012 and 2015 will haunt the experience.
Maybe if Sie asked the Bellas to sing “Three Is a Magic Number”? It’s just as well, because the song would have been a false claim.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.