I’m “biast” (con): not the biggest fan of the previous films
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Pitch Perfect 3, third in the comedy series about the young women of a competitive university a cappella singing group, opens with them belting out a massive rendition of Britney Spears’s “Toxic” on a yacht off the south of France… and then leaping off the boat in slo-mo while it explodes.
This is really rather remarkable: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie jump the shark — or the exploding yacht — in its opening scene.
Even more remarkable: Then the movie flashes back to “Three weeks earlier.” At which point the hapless viewer realizes that the movie is going to attempt a justification for how a bunch of music dorks could ever find themselves in the midst of a James Bond scenario.
Spoiler: While it is not outside the realm of possibility that such a connection could conceivably be made — in the same way that a million monkeys pounding on typewriters might accidentally type out Hamlet given a million years to do so — the movie does not succeed at this in any way that approaches the satisfying.
It’s almost unbelievably aca-palling how Pitch Perfect 3 tosses out what made the previous two films just passingly aca-ceptable, which would be the a cappella singing among rival groups attempting to outdo their opponents. The music in Pitch 1 and Pitch 2 was pretty toe-tappingly entertaining. And the movies harkened back to silly musicals the likes of which we don’t see much of anymore, which was nice, even if the Pitches were problematic in their depictions of women. This was especially concerning given that the films were about women, written by a woman (Kay Cannon, who returns as screenwriter here), and with No 2 directed by a woman. Still: how can you not love “organized nerd singing,” as the first movie called it, or Anna Kendrick (The Accountant, Trolls), who is an unappreciated goddess of comedy and music? (I feel like the Pitch Perfect movies don’t even begin to hint at what she can do.)
Remember how the first movie was actually inspired by a nonfiction book about college a cappella? The spy-thriller opening sequence serves only to highlight how much more realistic James Bond is than what happens here. This time out, the Barden (College) Bellas reunite from their crappy 20something post-university 21st-century existences of dead-end jobs to do a USO tour in Europe, into which is shoehorned a competition that has nothing to do with a cappella and in which the other contestants are bands… you know, like with musical instruments and everything. So there’s very little a cappella, and not even much in the way of competition; we don’t even get performances from the other bands, which are limp pastiches of an all-girl rock band, a country-rock band, and a hip-hop group. “Pastiche” may be giving the film too much credit, though; the bands are nondescript, the musicians nonentities. The subplot that culminates on the exploding yacht is even further removed from all this to the degree that it feels like it’s been imported from a completely different movie, one that is — if possible — even cheaper and cheesier.
So what else is there? A lot of women disparaging other women and themselves, including one cringe-inducing moment in which the Bellas, who are meant to be in their mid 20s, trash just barely slightly younger women for their fresh dewiness and presumably tight vaginas (yes, really); a moment of creative assertion by Kendricks’s Beca that is dismissed as a side effect being on her period; a helluva lot of infantilization of talented actresses who are in their 30s, some pushing 40, forced to enact pajama parties and childish daddy issues. Rebel Wilson’s (The Brothers Grimsby, How to Be Single) “Fat” Amy is treated atrociously here, from her constant stream of self-hating fat jokes to how the script treats her sexuality and her interest in men as something laughable and disgusting, which is precisely the opposite of the earlier films. (She’s also just a nasty jerk, constantly insulting her fellow Bellas merely to be “outrageous,” but she’s just mean and awful.) I won’t even go into how John Lithgow (Daddy’s Home 2, Miss Sloane) embarrasses himself as Amy’s father, complete with an awful Australian accent. And the less said about the return of Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, Magic Mike XXL) and John Michael Higgins (A Million Ways to Die in the West, Big Miracle) as the a cappella competition podcasters and commentators who are suddenly making a documentary — this is the flimsy excuse the movie has for them following the action around — the better. They do not deserve this.
There’s a reek of desperation to Pitch Perfect 3, a flailing-around attempt to re-create the success of the earlier movies without appreciating what made them work (which wasn’t much to start with). Screenwriter Cannon falls back on her TV-sitcom background with multiple slapstick action sequences that are shockingly out of place here. Director Trish Sie (Step Up All In) is incredible at crafting compulsively watchable music videos — she directed OK Go’s adventure in zero gravity for their song “Upside Down & Inside Out” — but there is no life in anything here that isn’t the very occasional musical number. Yet even the Bellas’ a cappella rendition of George Michael’s “Freedom” in the finale looks good only by comparison with the 90 minutes of nearly unwatchable junk that has come before.