'Pitch Perfect 3': Film Review

Time to retire.

Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and the rest of the a cappella singing group the Bellas are back for the third, and supposedly final, installment of the hit musical comedy franchise.

The third installment in Universal's hit franchise revolving around an a cappella singing group doesn't begin how you would expect. The opening sequence features the familiar heroines singing Britney Spears' "Toxic" on a massive yacht as all hell breaks loose around them. The fiery explosions and violent mayhem seem more appropriate for a James Bond movie than a lighthearted comedy, and it effectively signals that Pitch Perfect 3 is only going downhill from there.

Franchise fatigue is evident throughout this mechanical enterprise, which squanders the good will engendered by the original 2012 sleeper hit and, to a lesser extent, its even more commercially successful 2015 sequel. Whatever charms the first two movies possessed (and they were considerable, thanks to the talented and appealing cast) have been thoroughly lost in this soulless installment. It seems all the more surprising considering the screenplay was co-written by the talented Mike White, presumably happy to cash a studio paycheck between more idiosyncratic personal efforts like the recent Brad's Status and Miguel Arteta's Beatriz at Dinner.

Since professional obligation requires a summary of the plot cooked up by co-screenwriter Kay Cannon, here goes: The Bellas have by now graduated from college — and it's about time, considering Anna Kendrick is 32, Rebel Wilson is 37, Brittany Snow is 31 and Anna Camp is 35. They're trying to make it in the real world, with Beca (Kendrick) unhappily working at a record label and Fat Amy (Wilson) performing her original one-woman show, Fat Amy Winehouse. You can imagine their relief when offered an opportunity to reunite and perform as part of an overseas USO tour (with all the European locales unconvincingly doubled by Atlanta).

This time the Bellas are not competing with other singing groups, but rather the provocatively named — cue the tiresome jokes — all-female rock band Evermoist (its frontwoman played by the striking Australian actress/model Ruby Rose), a country-western band and a hip-hop duo. All are vying for the honor of serving as opening act for the upcoming tour by DJ Khaled (playing himself, to minimal effect). Between musical numbers and romantic flirtations, the Bellas also are forced to deal with Fat Amy's long-estranged father (John Lithgow), whose desire to reconnect with his daughter has ulterior motives. He eventually kidnaps most of the Bellas for the purpose of baiting Fat Amy, who's forced to come to the rescue along with Beca.

The familiar elements of the series are mostly present, including the amusing running commentary by the smarmy media duo played by John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (who made her feature directorial debut with Pitch Perfect 2 and is one of the producers here). But this installment has an air of flop-sweat desperation, from the camel-toe joke delivered just minutes into the proceedings to the supposedly hilarious notion of Wilson performing action-movie stunts. The plot machinations — which include Beca dealing with a crisis of conscience while deciding whether to take up DJ Khaled's offer to open for him, but only as a solo act — are beyond tiresome, and not even the appeal and comic chops of the lead actresses are enough to carry them off.

As usual, it's the vigorous song-and-dance numbers that provide the highlights. To be fair, those are excellently performed and choreographed, with director Trish Sie (whose credits include 2014's Step Up All In and numerous OK Go music videos) staging the sequences with admirable proficiency. But what started out as a charmingly offbeat comic premise has inevitably degenerated into the sort of crass commercialism that probably would make the Bellas themselves turn up their noses.

Production companies: Universal Pictures, Gold Circle Entertainment, Perfect World Pictures, Brownstone Productions
Distributor: Universal
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Alexis Knapp, Chrissie Fit, Kelley Jakle, Shelley Regner, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, John Lithgow, DJ Khaled, Ruby Rose
Director: Trish Sie
Screenwriters; Kay Cannon, Mike White
Producers: Paul Brooks, Max Handelman, Elizabeth Banks
Executive producers: Jason Moore, Scott Niemeyer, David Nicksay
Director of photography: Matthew Clark
Production designer: Toby Corbett
Costume designer: Salvador Perez
Music: Christopher Lennertz
Editors: Craig Alpert, Colin Patton
Casting: Kerry Barden, Kris Redding, Paul Schnee

Rated PG-13, 93 minutes