The Barden Bellas are back for a final farewell tour. I went into Pitch Perfect 3 fully expecting it to be the latest Hollywood victim to the law of diminishing returns (most sequels simply can’t measure up to their predecessors no matter how hard they try), and sadly, I wasn’t disappointed. I complained about the second movie having too many unnecessary subplots that distracted from the heart and soul of the first film that was a surprise hit with audiences, and this is much of the same. While I enjoyed catching up with my favorite quirky characters like Beca, Aubrey, Fat Amy, Chloe, Lilly, Emily and Cynthia Rose, and there are many welcomed additions to the cast this time around, I think one of the things that hurt it the most was the lack of captivating a cappella performances that have made this franchise so unique. That and the Bardens’ male counterparts – The Treblemakers – have all seemingly retired. Alas, you won’t find Jesse, Bumper or Benji appearing anywhere in this sequel except for a mention at the beginning.
The plot was a rather good one at first. After getting together for a mini-reunion at Emily’s (Hailee Steinfeld) insistence, the former Barden Bellas are struggling to come to terms with life in a post-collegiate world. Their days of singing competitions are long past them and many of them are searching for a purpose. (Aren’t we all in a post-collegiate world?) Beca (Anna Kendrick) quits her job as a music producer after having musical differences with the hip-hop loser she’s representing, while Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) experience difficulties with vet school and flight school. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is as jobless and aimless as always, while Aubrey (Anna Camp) has never quite been the same without having the thrill of competition in her life. Then Aubrey gets the bright idea to ask her military father to pull some strings to get the girls on an overseas USO tour to entertain the troops. They figure this is likely to be their last opportunity to sing together and they’re all pitifully grasping at straws.
Once they arrive overseas, they quickly discover the USO tour is also a singing competition to see which musical act will get the distinction of opening for DJ Khaled (played by himself) on a televised special with the promise of a lucrative recording contract to boot. The Bellas are intimidated to learn that the other musical groups on this tour also play instruments and are very talented. Ruby Rose leads an all-girl group known as Evermoist, while Saddle Up and Young Sparrow & DJ Dragon Nutz also give the Bellas a run for their money. The best scene in the movie occurs when the Bellas challenge the other groups to a “Riff-Off” and get more than they bargained for when they all chime in and create musical harmony. The best musical performances found in this movie include renditions of The Cranberries’ “Zombie”, Britney Spears’ “Toxic”, Sia’s “Cheap Thrills”, Elle King’s “Ex’s and Oh’s” and George Michael’s “Freedom”. And while they’re not quite as good as the Green Bay Packers’ spirited performance during Pitch Perfect 2, watch for a fun, unexpected riff courtesy of the military men.
If Pitch Perfect 3 had been content to focus on the rivalry amongst these groups with more riff-offs, I probably would have enjoyed it more. But alas, the producers chose to give it an odd espionage subplot involving the addition of Fat Amy’s estranged father played by John Lithgow with an awkward Australian accent. While it was good to see Lithgow on screen again, I thought they focused too heavily on this story arc. Am I supposed to have much of an emotional investment in the relationship between Fat Amy and her criminal father we’ve never heard about until now? And am I the only one who thinks Rebel Wilson has finally made enough fat jokes that I’m actually starting to pity her for being typecast? They’re everywhere in this film and most of them fall short – as short as her breaths while beating up the bad guys on her father’s yacht at the end of the movie. I came up with that on the cuff, and it was about as brilliant as the writing was in this movie!
John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks reprise their roles as inept announcers John and Gail, who are now making a documentary about the Bellas and the world of a cappella. Newcomers Matt Lanter and Guy Burnet turn up as welcome eye candy for the ladies, though nobody will ever give me the warm fuzzies quite like seeing Jesse and Beca come together in the first movie. Sadly, I think this marks the end of an era. The era in which people cared about singing competitions and reality shows is long past and perhaps it’s time for the Barden Bellas to hang up their matching sequined outfits and learn to hack it at their real-world jobs. While the finale isn’t as much of a show-stopper as finales past, if you’re a fan of the franchise, Pitch Perfect 3 will probably still reverberate with you as a beacon to its past glory. It’s fun, though not as captivating as the original. If I were you, I’d wait until it comes to Redbox or Netflix.
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