Look: The problem with Pitch Perfect 3 isn’t the musical numbers. They’re not as fresh and exciting as they were in 2012, and the novelty has worn off to a significant degree, but the mixtape of songs and performances in the film remains generally pleasant and often fun, even if they never kick into high gear the way in which they did in the first film (the Treblemakers’ final performance in the original movie still remains the high-point in the franchise).
The problem with Pitch Perfect 3 isn’t the one-liners, either. There are some great zingers, and Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins still manage to steal every scene they’re in. The film manages to elicit at least one big laugh every five minutes (combined, Higgins, Banks, and Fat Amy account for about 90 percent of them; Hana Mae Lee’s Lily accounts for the rest).
The problem with Pitch Perfect 3 is that the story is a disaster. It has completely lost touch with the underdog spirit of the original, obliterates the stakes, and makes a sad attempt at transforming itself into an action-comedy. Even in that regard, it can’t commit. The Rocky-like formula of the original has been exchanged for something like an A-capella Geostorm, a bunch of bizarre, loosely connected subplots that knock down a lot of walls and crash around cities before fizzling into nothing.
Pitch Perfect 3 sees the Bellas at a crossroads. Pushing 30 and largely unsuccessful in their careers, they’re all looking at the best years of their lives in the rearview. After coming together at a Bella reunion, they decide to get the band back together again for a … USO Tour, which I assume is the most convenient way for the Bellas to travel Europe and appeal to that sweet, sweet international box-office (Pitch Perfect 2 managed $100 million internationally even without opening in China). Along for the USO Tour is a rock band (fronted by Ruby Rose), a country band, and a hip-hop outfit, although they largely exist to provide the film with the necessary riff-off and give the illusion of a competition. At the end of the four-stop tour, DJ Khaled will reward his favorite band with an opening slot ahead of his performance (even this low-stakes competition putters into nothingness).
Meanwhile, each of the major Bellas is dealing with her own issues. Becca (Anna Kendrick) remains an aspiring musician and DJ Khaled’s assistant offers attention of both the career and romantic variety; Aubrey (Anna Camp) aims to gain the attention of her absentee father, a prominent military figure who has never had time to see her perform; and Chloe (Brittany Snow) is just kind of there, awkwardly flirting with the military dude in charge of chauffeuring the Bellas.
The most inexplicable plot, however, belongs to Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), who is reunited with her estranged father (John Lithgow), a career criminal who ends up involving Fat Amy and the rest of the Bellas in a separate movie that feels like what was left on the cutting room floor of Melissa McCarthy’s Spy. It makes zero sense in the context of a Pitch Perfect movie, and nothing about mashing up a Bond action film with an A Capella twist on a Britney Spears’ number works.
I’m willing to concede, however, that no one watches Pitch Perfect movies for the plot. The “story” in third entry into the franchise exists as only a framing device to jam as many musical numbers into the movie as possible. In that regard, I suppose it’s a success, although it never approaches the crowd-pleasing heights of the original or even the mediocrity of the second installment. Nevertheless, when the characters are cracking wise or performing on stage, it works in fits and starts. Everything else, however, is a aca-crap.