2 stars (out of 4)
The Barden Bellas don’t go out on a winning note. The movie is tone-deaf. The characters are off-Pitch. It’s not over until Fat Amy sings, and she does! Pick any music pun, and the disappointing result is the same.
A-ca brutal truth time: Pitch Perfect should have been a self-contained one and done. The 2012 original is a delightful, extremely watchable battle-of-the-sexes comedy set against the backdrop of a college singing competition. We got total closure. Brilliant. The bigger-budget sequel, however, was a lazy, bloated miss. This third installment fares only slightly better. We still cheer for the congenial Bellas, but their journey has been stretched into a thin whimper.
At least 32-year-old star Anna Kendrick doesn’t have to pretend to be a college student anymore! Three years after graduation, our Bella alums — including Beca (Kendrick), Amy (Rebel Wilson), Aubrey (Anna Camp), Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Cynthia Rose (Esther Dean) — are fully enmeshed in the real world. And they’re having a tough go at it. When they see bright and shiny Barden student Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) singing on stage with Bellas 2.0, the moping commences. “I’d give anything to sing to with you again!” Chloe wails. Solution! Aubrey’s dad is a high-ranking army official. She can pull a few strings and get the award-winning group on a quickie good-will USO Tour through the most picturesque parts of Europe. (Who knew the USO hit the South of France?)
That’s the first nine minutes. There’s still 87 minutes to go. And it’s painfully obvious that director Trish Sie (taking over for Elizabeth Banks, who took over for Jason Moore) strains to make it to the finish line. Hitting the required beats adds to the desperation.
Remember how the original nighttime riff-off between all the a capella teams — a charming highlight — offered a fresh spin on classics such as “No Diggity”? Now the scene is staler than week-old Christmas fruit cake. You know you’ve run out of ideas when Artists You Didn’t Know Are Jewish is a category. That means you, Lenny Kravitz. Beca saying that the Bellas should stop doing the impromptu contests because they never end well underlines the point.
The rest of the plot consists of silly filler such as Amy’s attempt to reconcile with her estranged dad (John Lithgow), which culminates in some sort of kidnapping and blackmail sequence. Wilson must bail the girls out using kung-fu moves, perhaps in a bid to spin-off Amy’s own action movie franchise? Meanwhile, Beca tries to get face time with fellow tour performer DJ Khaled. This quest isn’t subtle. I’m convinced there was a contractual obligation to mention his name at least 50 times in order to wrangle his onscreen appearance.
The success of Girls Trip proves that there’s a market for a comedy romp in which girlfriends hit the road and participate in wacky hijinks. But the humor needs to an element of surprise and freshness. Wilson doing the Wilson thing isn’t an instant laugh generator just because she has a knack for physical comedy and hurls easy insults to Steinfeld’s Emily about her intelligence. And with all respect to the ladies, half the fun of Pitch Perfect was reveling in the dynamic between the endearingly cocky all-male Trebles and the Bellas. Now Bumper (Adam DeVine) and Jesse (Skylar Astin) have been written out of the story in a single sentence. They’re missed.
We still have the music. It’s always a thrill to hear the Bellas, now super-polished, drama-free performers, belt out tunes such as, well, “Cheap Thrills.” They can mix up a Britney Spears hit with the best of ‘em. And their farewell performance is a glorious and emotional send-off. Bye, Bellas. Flaws aside, we’re going to miss you when you’re gone.
Pitch Perfect 3 opens in theaters everywhere Wednesday, December 20.
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