Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Pitches Be Crazy

Year: 2017
Director: Trish Sie
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

The Pitch Perfect franchise has a pretty personal connection to me. The first one arrived when I was a freshman in college, the same as the characters in the movie. And just like how I grew up at roughly the same rate as Harry Potter, I grew along with the Garden Bellas, through college and into the vaguely defined post-graduation future. These movies have followed every beat of my life since 2012, arriving every couple of years to remind me of the pop songs I tried to ignore while the years were passing. So I knew I had to check out the third and ostensibly final entry in the franchise, despite the fact that I borderline hated the previous entry. Let's see how it went!

Ah, I see they're traveling to Europe! That's always a good sign, right?

Pitch Perfect 3 cuts the fat of the franchise's cast, slicing off pretty much every male character and even one of the Barden Bellas (sorry Stacie, I don't know if you were actually pregnant or just busy, but at least you get a scene over FaceTime - Skylar Astin is stuck prepping for the Trolls TV series and he got squat) as the now graduated Bellas return for one final adventure. They are all struggling with finding their place in the larger world, so they're throwing their all into a USO tour, hoping that they can get noticed over the other bands and picked to open for a cameo-ing DJ Khaled on his big televised show at the end of the week.

The plot is mostly just DJ Khaled straining for laughs, shooting his bizarre personality in every direction possible, but let's break it down a little more. Beca (Anna Kendrick) just quit her job as a corporate music producer, but when she meets Khaled's manager Theo (Guy Burnet) she realizes she might not have lost her interest in that lifestyle. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) encounters her mafioso father (John Lithgow sporting a terrible Aussie accent), who tries to charm her back into his life for potentially nefarious reasons. And, um... Chloe (Brittany Snow) flirts with hot Army dude Chicago (Matt Lanter). I guess there's other girls too (Anna Camp, Ester Dean, Hailee Steinfeld, Hana Mae Lee, and poor Chrissie Fit - who was saddled with the worst character in PP2 and as a reward for her patience gets absolutely nothing to do here).

The biggest issue is that the bands they're competing with use actual instruments and claim not to perform covers (that's a big part of the way they judge the Bellas, but if there's a original song in the lineup we eventually see, I'll eat my f**king hat).

Nice try, Josie and the Pussycats.

Now, it's not entirely Pitch Perfect 3's fault that its songs are boring as hell. Sia is very popular at the moment (plus, she has a tie with the first film's use of the song "Titanium"), so it makes sense that they chose to perform "Cheap Thrills." Unfortunately, that song has the tempo of a funeral dirge and does not befit itself to a high energy comedy sequel. It feels like the movie has been thrust into slow motion, and the other songs don't do much to bring the pace back up. 

Among the artists selected to be brought to tedious life without instrumentation are Flo Rida, George Michael, some unbearably hip songbird called Daya, and oh... that's about it. It just all seems hopelessly random and listless, and only Britney Spears' "Toxic" does anything to pique the interest (they clearly know this because the performance is repeated twice, in the opening and about an hour later). There's not even any mash-upping happening here, which is the only trick the Bellas have in their bag! The only thing that got me through the second movie was the a cappella performances, and this film lacks a major lifeline.

At least they didn't force us to listen to any more Hailee Steinfeld-penned original song catastrophes.

I've never liked the recurring Pitch Perfect joke of slapping the prefix "aca-" in front of random words. It's not really a joke, and it's one of the writers' favorite things to shove in there when a scene is flagging. Of course, this entry is more than ready to double down on all the gags people purportedly respond to from the franchise, so I don't get off easy in the comedy department either.

Luckily, the cast is still charming (and quite comfortable in their characters' skins at this point) and manages to deliver some fun, punchy material from the midst of this messy, scattered plot. They're clearly having fun together, and that does spice up some of the potentially leaden moments. But there's no doubting that the whole affair is being held together with bubblegum and twine.

Just like the Ghostbusters remake before it, the end credits reveal just how many scenes were cut to shreds, shoving in outtakes left and right that are very clearly entire scenes that wound up on the cutting room floor. And the film is so uninvested in actual character growth, some of these scenes actually provide vital exposition that should have actually been doled out to us 80 minutes before.

I will say this: Pitch Perfect 3 does know how preposterous it is, and it does lean in with some semi-charming meta jokes and an actually enjoyable sense of total reckless abandon. This is best exemplified in this film's Riff-Off, in which people who clearly have no right knowing how a cappella works conspicuously burst into song, to the chagrin of the Bellas. That doesn't make it a good film, but sometimes it's a sort of enjoyable one.

Better than Part 2? That's a low bar to clear, but I honestly don't think it can claim that title. These sequels have indulged in the worst impulses of the original, which was an incredible comedy in spite of certain flaws. Now these films have buffed out everything but the flaws, and this is a well I hope they don't return to until they've had a long time to think about what they did.

TL;DR: Pitch Perfect 3 is a scattered, tedious sequel that doesn't do right by its characters, its story, or - most importantly - its music.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1072
Reviews In This Series
Pitch Perfect 2 (Banks, 2015)
Pitch Perfect 3 (Sie, 2017)

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