When we last saw the a cappella group The Bellas in “Pitch Perfect 2,” most of them were graduating college and the sky was the limit for their futures. But, as we see in clips of a documentary being made by the franchise’s oddly Bella-obsessed commentary team (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks), things aren’t so sunshiny out in the real world. For example, Beca (Anna Kendrick) can’t stand her job as a music producer because the artists don’t like being told that they’re not talented enough to produce their tracks themselves. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) isn’t doing so hot as an Amy Winehouse impersonator for all the reasons one would think that isn’t a stable vocation. And everyone else’s life is similarly off-key.
The members think they’re going to reunite for a one-night-only performance, but they’re really just being invited to a set by the current incarnation of The Bellas, led by the still-enrolled Emily (Hailee Steinfeld). The group laments that they’ll never perform again, until one of them suggests that they use her convenient military connections to go on a USO tour. Almost all of them have too much time on their hands, so it’s off they go on a crazy adventure among European bases.
The Bellas need to be at their best, because the most impressive act on the tour gets a spot opening for DJ Khaled, which apparently is a ticket to superstardom. Their main competition is another female group called Evermoist. That name alone should disqualify them from performing on so much as a street corner, but according to this movie, they’re a force to be reckoned with. It turns out that DJ Khaled only wants one person, and there’s a whirlpool of tedious drama over whether or not they’ll take the offer.
Because this movie is in desperate need of excitement, Fat Amy reunites with her estranged criminal father (John Lithgow, doing a pitiful Australian accent). This leads to The Bellas being taken hostage on a yacht, and the movie turns into a little action thriller for a while. I suppose I should be grateful for the break in the lame competition storyline, but the movie is out of its depth with the sudden genre shift. To be fair, we do get sausage links used as nunchucks, and that’s always good for a few seconds of amusement.
The musical performances are at least competent. The movie opens on a desperate, daring take on Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and closes on an infectiously joyous version of George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90.” In between we get another of those bouncy riff-off sequences where The Bellas supposedly get humiliated by the other acts, but I think they hold their own. There’s a nice long performance of “Cheap Thrills,” which I mention because I’m a huge fan of Sia so of course I felt swept up. And those are just the standouts. The playlist does rely a little too much on hits from the past couple of years, which haven’t been great for pop music, but it never gets too bothersome. Arranging a cappella performances like these seems like an impossible task, so even when it’s a song I don’t like, I at least respect the effort.
“Pitch Perfect 3” is about 20% proficient performances and about 80% dumb antics that I suspect are mostly there to stretch the running time out to the 90-minute mark. The movie goes for enough gags that some of them are bound to land (Hana Mae Lee as the group’s quietest member is the movie’s secret weapon as always), but it’s not at a ratio that makes the film particularly watchable. Come for the performances, stay for the performances, try not to get too bored with the rest of the movie.
“Pitch Perfect 3” is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language and some action. Its running time is 93 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.