If Pitch Perfect 2 taught us anything, it's that bigger isn't always better. The so-so 2015 sequel didn't exactly make the original look like a one-hit wonder, but in trying to repeat the same beats (only louder), it couldn't find quite the same catchy refrain. Still, it's a toe-tapping triumph compared to the third instalment in the a cappella-focused franchise. Like mid 2000s-era Britney Spears, whose 'Toxic' the film trots out more than once, Pitch Perfect 3 is desperately trying to recapture some old magic with very little success.
Britney's track is actually the best thing about the movie, which is why it keeps popping up. As the Barden Bellas sing, dance and channel their inner pop star, they're doing what they love — and it shows. Sadly, director Trish Sie (Step Up 5), returning screenwriter Kay Cannon and franchise newbie/co-writer Mike White (Brad's Status)insist on overcomplicating matters again and again. And so it is that our heroes find themselves belting out the tune on a boat that's suddenly besieged with action and explosions. If you're thinking that the franchise has completely run out of ideas, then you're right.
The singing silliness starts when record producer Beca (Anna Kendrick), pals Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (Anna Camp), outspoken Australian Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and the rest of the gang wrangle their way into a gig entertaining American troops — which then turns out to be a competition to support DJ Khaled at the finale of the tour. Unhappy in their adult lives now that college is but a distant memory, the experience sees the group back in their aca-element, hopping across Europe and riffing off against bands with actual instruments. Commentators John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks) tag along to make a documentary, while Fat Amy also has to deal with her estranged Aussie father (John Lithgow).
While Britney gives Pitch Perfect 3 its high point, it heads in the opposite direction every time Lithgow opens his mouth. Like Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained, it's another case of an American actor completely missing the mark when trying out an Australian accent — not that he seems to be trying that hard. The fact that it'll stick in your mind says just as much about the film around it, however, with the movie brightly shot and zippily paced but unable to rise above a bland screenplay. It doesn't help that the main cast seem barely interested, as they trot through the expected motions, jokes and character tics. At least they give the various jukebox-like musical numbers the requisite energy. Everything else in the film feels like exactly what it is: filler.
The end product is a movie that, much like its characters, is happy just to relive past glories. Ironically, the film's message — about moving on and letting go of the past — is one that it seems incapable of taking on board. As a result, while Pitch Perfect 3 is packaged as the Bellas' last hurrah, no one will be surprised if we end up with a fourth instalment. If it forces the group onto a reality TV singing show — and, really, where else can they go? — then it really will be scraping the bottom of the barrel.