Back for another dose of a capella shenanigans, Pitch Perfect 3 makes its way onto our screen this week, but is it any good? Matthew Turner gives us his verdict.
The original Pitch Perfect was a charming and very funny hit in 2012, but it blotted its copybook with a dismal follow-up in 2015 that failed to hit any of the right notes. Unfortunately, this third and supposedly final entry in the series isn’t much of an improvement over its lacklustre predecessor, thanks to a half-hearted script and a corresponding lack of charm and wit, though the songs are as catchy as ever.
Directed by Trish Sie, Pitch Perfect 3 sees the members of the all-female a cappella group The Bellas – including sparky Beca (Anna Kendrick), irrepressible Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and co-founders Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (Anna Camp) – coming together for a reunion, where they collectively realise that they’ve all been miserable since graduating college. When Aubrey suggests embarking on a USO tour overseas (with a possible competition element), they all jump at the chance, recruiting perky still-in-college Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) to join them.
When they arrive at the base, they quickly spark rivalries with the three other bands (including sexy rockers Evermoist, fronted by Ruby Rose as Calamity), not least because they all use instruments, which puts The Bellas at a distinct disadvantage. Meanwhile, Beca faces a dilemma when tour headliner DJ Khaled (playing himself, but not with any great enthusiasm) offers her a solo spot without the Bellas and Fat Amy faces her own problems when her ne’er-do-well Australian father (John Lithgow, complete with distractingly awful accent) suddenly reappears in her life.
The film attempts to inject some tension and drama by opening with a framing sequence involving The Bellas escaping from an exploding boat, but other than a couple of scenes of Fat Amy pulling some action hero moves (shades of Melissa McCarthy in Spy), the lazy script largely ignores that element of the story and the build-up to the exploding boat scene is underwhelming to say the least.
In fact, the script is so ridiculously uninterested in its various sub-plots (including a handful of other romances and a second set of daddy issues) that it only bothers to wrap them up as an after-thought, in a series of sequences that play out during the closing credits.
Aside from a low-stakes plot that aims no higher than predictability, the film’s other main problem is the way it side-lines and ignores its secondary characters, with Steinfeld’s Emily and Snow’s Chloe receiving particularly short shrift this time around. The irony is that the film’s best running joke revolves around two of its members never getting lines or screentime, but the filmmakers don’t seem to realise that that’s equally true of the more visible cast members, especially black Bella Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean), Latina Bella Flo (Chrissie Fit) and Asian Bella Lily (Hana Mae Lee).
In addition, despite Ruby Rose’s high profile casting as the lead singer of Evermoist, she’s given nothing of interest to do and barely even interacts with the main characters. Also, would it have killed the filmmakers to make a nod towards gay representation this time round? The first film bailed out of the idea that Snow’s character seemingly has a crush on Beca and there’s the briefest hint of that here too, before Chloe gets saddled with an underwritten, dullsville romance with USO liaison officer Chicago, played by Matt Lanter (Timeless).
As an illustration of just how desperate the script is to recapture the magic of the first movie, it shoe-horns in Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as commentators Gail and John, here tasked with making a documentary about the Bellas in another sub-plot with no obvious pay-off. Worse, their characters have long since lost their relevance and their inexplicable presence here is both pointless and embarrassing.
On the plus side, the cast are extremely likeable, displaying an appealing comic chemistry that almost makes up for the fact that the jokes just aren’t there this time round. And of course, the superbly performed songs are both as catchy as ever (their opening rendition of Toxic is a particular highlight) and impressively staged, thanks to Sie’s background as a music video director and some snappy choreography and editing.
Ultimately, the likeable cast and the catchy musical numbers ensure that this remains watchable for its commendably brief running time, but it’s hard not to be disappointed in terms of plot, humour and character development.
Director: Trish Sie
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hailee Steinfeld, John Lithgow, Matt Lanter, DJ Khaled, Rebel Wilson, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, Guy Burnet, Chrissie Fit
Release date: 20 December, 2017
Running time: 94 mins
Matthew Turner is a freelance film critic and broadcaster.