Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)

Last Call, Pitches

It’s hard to believe that most people didn’t know what the term ‘a cappella’ meant before Pitch Perfect sang its way into multiplexes some five years ago (a-ca-scuse me?). A peppy musical-comedy that rode the wave of popular television shows such as Glee (2009) and Smash (2012), Pitch Perfect worked as a star-making vehicle for the uber-talented Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air (2009), who stole the show with her insanely catchy rendition of ‘Cups.’ Tracking the musical mishaps of an all-girl collage a cappella group known as the Barden Bellas, the film was an a-ca-sized hit, which made a lot of noise at the worldwide box office.

Three years later we were treated to Pitch Perfect 2 (2015), which expanded on what viewers loved about the first movie whilst adding some fresh new faces to the mix, chiefly spunky singer/ actress Hailee Steinfeld, The Edge of Seventeen (2016), who’s Emily Junk wound up taking over the Bellas by the end of the film, working as the leader of the Bellas 2.0. Helmed by Elizabeth Banks — who stars in the series as Gail Abernathy-McKadden, a former a cappella singer who commentates for the ICCA with her chauvinistic co-host John Smith (John Michael Higgins) — the sequel made even more of a splash, meaning that it was only a matter of time until the a-ca-gods treated us with a third pitchin’ number.

‘We’re back! You Bella-believe it.’

Written by Kay Cannon — who’s penned every screenplay in the toe-tappin’ trilogy (yep, it’s a trilogy now) — along with Mike White, School of Rock (2003), and directed by Trish Sie, Step Up All In (2014), this third (and final?) Pitch Perfect feels kinda different from the get-go. The flick opens in the middle of an action sequence, with the Bellas performing a rendition of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ on an expensive looking yacht, before Fat Amy aka Patricia (Rebel Wilson) crashes the show with a fire extinguisher to buy her gal pals enough time to dive off the boat before it explodes. Odd right? We then rewind to three weeks earlier, where we see the former Bellas struggling to find their voice after leaving college.

Viewers witness the pleasant yet standoffish Beca (Anna Kendrick) quit her job as a music producer after a disagreement with an idiotic rapper who goes by the name Pimp-Lo (Moises Arias). We also learn that Fat Amy, who’s bunking with Beca, has been finding it hard to get her ‘Fat Amy Winehouse’ one-woman show off the ground, while their other roomie, Chloe (Brittany Snow), is still trying to get into vet school by means of working as a veterinary assistant, the Bellas’ former co-leader spending most of her days with her hands up animals’ butts. Then there’s the a-ca-licious Aubrey (Anna Camp), who’s bored with her career as a hardened self-help guru and clearly misses the adrenaline of competition. The rest of the ex Bellas — Cynthia-Rose (Ester Dean), Stacie (Alexis Knapp), Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), Flo (Chrissie Fit) and the self-aware background characters Jessica and Ashley (Kelley Jakle and Shelley Regner respectively) — aren’t overly happy with how their lives are panning out either.

Stand up and salute

The story kicks into gear when Steinfeld’s Emily (who’s still at Barden University) invites her past group mates to attend a Bellas reunion at a Brooklyn Aquarium, the girls arriving in their signature stewardess outfits ready to perform. Sadly the ladies discover that they won’t be doing any singing and dancing, Beca and her pals simply watching from the sidelines as Emily and her new troupe wow the crowd. After the performance, the Ballas gather at the bar, where they acknowledge that they’d give anything to go on stage again, even just one more time. Fortunately, Camp’s Aubrey saves the day by hatching a plan to get the gang back in the a-ca-circuit. You see, although her father (Michael Rose) hasn’t been a major part of her life, he happens to be a big shot in the army, one who’s able to get them a spot on a USO performance tour for the troops in Europe, where they’ll have a chance at winning an opening spot for DJ Khaled (who’s um … playing himself) in his upcoming show.

Running at a mere 93 minutes — the shortest entry in the series — Pitch Perfect 3 tries to juggle too much at once, all at the expense of its biggest drawing factor, the a cappella acts. First up, there’s the obligatory rivalry/ riff-off between competitors (who use actual instruments in their sets), mainly an all-girl rock group named Evermoist (a-ca-really?), with Ruby Rose’s smarmy adversary, Calamity, basically a non-event. There’s also a really week C-plot that follows commentators John and Gail as they try to make some kind of a Bellas documentary, as well as a romantic interest for the whispering beatboxer Lily, who falls for silent hip-hop competitor DJ Dragon Nutz (D.J. Looney) who’s part of a two-man troupe. With Beca and Amy’s old flames, Jesse (Skylar Astin) and Bumper (Adam DeVine), out of the picture, it’s clear that filmmakers had their minds set on pairing Beca up with DJ Khaled’s British assistant Theo (Guy Burnet), before actress Kendrick had them nix the whole idea.

The Bellas re-choir an encore.

On top of all that, the Bellas are thrust into a preposterous James Bond-type sub-plot that sees Fat Amy rekindle her relationship with her estranged father, Fergus (John Lithgow), an Aussie gangster who’s after his daughter’s inheritance money and winds up abducting the Bellas for ransom. This eventually leads to an array of brazen fight sequences, which see Rebel Wilson go all Liam Neeson on the kidnappers and single-handedly save the day. Heck, don’t even get me started on John Lithgow’s hammy Australian accent — why not hire an actual Aussie actor to play an Australian character?

Even though there are fewer numbers in this third chapter, the ones that we do get are a-ca-ace; the highlight is a catchy cover of Sia’s ‘Cheap Thrills’ that sees the girls whirl around in red-and-white halter-tops, stealing the stage with their sexy striped outfits and deliciously choreographed dance moves. The final number is also a winner, with the Bellas’ rendition of George Michael’s ‘Freedom! ’90’ (backed by a full-size orchestra) closing the ‘farewell’ tour in style.

Turning to the cast, the sassy Anna Kendrick continues to hold the series together as driven protagonist Beca, whilst Rebel Wilson is, once again, boisterously fun as the eccentric outspoken Bella from Tasmania, the 37-year-old clearly having a great time with all of her added physical comedy — and yes, the movie’s still funny. The adorable Anna Camp, The Help (2011), is given a larger role, too, her control freak Aubrey, this time, forced to confront her daddy issues. It’s a little frustrating, however, to discover that Alexis Knapp, Project X (2012), is missing for most of the picture, the sexpot Stacie skipping the tour due to an unplanned pregnancy — talk about a disa-a-ca-pointment.

‘It’s not over until Fat Amy sings.’

Tackling themes of family and loyalty, as well as those of moving on, Pitch Perfect 3 concludes with each of the rag-tag crew taking a definitive step in their lives, filmmakers wrapping things up in a predictable yet heart-warming manner. Although a little tonally inept, Pitch Perfect 3 features just enough musically charged razzle-dazzle to save itself from its own unevenness — let’s just hope we’ve seen the last of the Barden Bellas (and their a-ca-ventures) before this series officially jumps the a-ca-shark!

3 / 5 – a-ca-Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Pitch Perfect 3 is released through Universal Pictures Australia