The trailer for “Pitch Perfect 3” makes it look and sound like a comedy, which puts me in the unfortunate position of announcing that it is nothing of the kind. It’s a tragedy in four-part harmony.
The latest in a once-appealing series of movies about the joys of female friendship, campus rivalry and vocal percussion, it’s a coarse, ugly, pointlessly action-packed reminder that every modestly sharp and amusing property must eventually be converted, by the commercial logic of Hollywood, into a soul-killing cash grab.
I won't dwell on the details. The laziness with which this movie has been slapped together can’t really be described; it can only be emulated. Beca (Anna Kendrick), an aspiring mixmaster who’s just quit her unfulfilling record-label job, finds herself thrown back with her old gal pals from the Barden Bellas, a spirited if erratic a cappella group.
Post-college life is rough, and so the Bellas join a United Service Organizations tour to entertain American troops around the world and also to compete with several more seasoned, instrument-wielding bands for the chance to open for DJ Khaled. (The credits note that DJ Khaled played himself, but he couldn’t possibly be this dull in real life.)
The awful, corrosive thing about “Pitch Perfect 3” is that what’s bothering the Bellas — their anxiety that their glory days of fun and fame have passed — becomes the movie’s unintended subtext, and the actors’ as well. Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hailee Steinfeld, Ester Dean and Hana Mae Lee are back but not exactly better than ever, trapped doing wan variations on past shtick.
There are the usual Top 40 mash-ups and riff-offs (“Fly Away”! “Love Me Harder”!), but the Bellas’ chief rivals — attitude-dripping pop-rock musicians with the much-repeated name of Evermoist — seem only a bit more invested in the outcome than the audience will be.
Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins return too with their snarky geek-chorus routine, though this time they’re playing not competition judges but amateur filmmakers trying to make a documentary about the Bellas. That seems to be as close as Banks, who did a more-than-creditable job steering “Pitch Perfect 2,” was willing to get to the director’s chair. (The honor, if that’s the word, falls to Trish Sie.)
Some predictable idiocy ensues, followed by some less predictable idiocy. It’s no surprise to report that the delightful Rebel Wilson, once again stepping into the role of Fat Amy, spends most of the movie dropping vulgar innuendo, ogling the servicemen and perfecting her one-woman show, “Fat Amy Winehouse.” It’s a bit more surprising to learn that she is the daughter of a ruthless international assassin (John Lithgow, sporting an Australian accent and an uncharacteristic air of self-loathing).
I probably should have prefaced that with a spoiler alert, but the only way I could ruin “Pitch Perfect 3” for you would be by encouraging you to see it.
‘Pitch Perfect 3’
Rating: PG-13, for crude and sexual content, language and some action
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: In general release