Monday, 8 January 2018

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 3 (2018)

The plot: Three years after their victory at the a cappella World Championship, the Bellas are struggling to make their mark in the world outside of music. However, after they reunite under false pretences, they decide to go on one last tour and perform for the U.S. troops, taking part in a competition to win an opening spot for DJ Khaled. However, as they see that the rest of the bands actually play their own music, it seems that this last hurrah is going to be the most challenging feat the Bellas have ever faced.

Anna Kendrick is trying quite hard to keep things held together, and she certainly has the on-screen confidence to make that work, but she’s also the only member of the Bellas who makes an actual impact. Or, at least, makes a positive impact. Brittany Snow and Anna Camp hit the ‘ageing but desperately trying to escape that fate’ button for all it’s worth, Hana Mae Lee barely even registers as an on-screen presence, and Hailee Steinfeld flat-out does not register. John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks officially grind their underhanded colour commentary schtick into the ground and Ruby Rose continues her track record of being a Sentient Red Flag (yep, another Aussie actor fits into this category) whenever she gets a speaking role.

Matt Lanter as one of the U.S. soldiers becomes a walking irony machine, since he’s the guy who played fake Edward in Vampires Suck and the leads of this film are called the Bellas… and yet somehow, that comparison is just making me think of something I’d much rather be sitting through. Namely, because it doesn’t involve John Lithgow doing an atrocious Australian accent. It really says something when his star has fallen as much as it has over the last couple years, and this is easily the worst he’s been in that time. And in case all of this wasn’t a big enough sign that something is definitely off with this whole thing, the most engaging actor here? DJ Khaled playing himself. Seriously.

The music here is… completely forgettable. I’m not entirely sure how we managed to go from the fairly solid standard set up by the first two films to the point where the musical numbers are the least interesting thing here. Watching the songs being performed, as nice as some of the selections are, the Bellas and pretty much anyone else who joins in has this look of “I don’t want to be here” written all over them. That does a fair bit to suck out the energy and enthusiasm from those moments, and the lacklustre direction from Trish Sie doesn’t help either. This is the same woman who helped give us the highly memorable music videos of OK Go, and yet that sense of tight choreography and rather bizarre but fitting tone doesn’t translate here. She also directed the final (hopefully) installment of the Step Up franchise with All In, a film that ultimately didn’t turn out that well but still showed a sense of how to stage those moments.

Here? The recurring mood of the film is that this is when the Bellas are going to hang up their ascots and give up singing as a career. That comes through less as a result of experience and more as a result of apathy. Pitch Perfect took No Diggity and breathed new life into it, to the point where it made me realize just how bloody good that song is. Pitch Perfect 2 took Muse’s Uprising, an already amazing song, and managed to outclass even my own lofty regard for the song in question through its performance by Das Sound Machine. Pitch Perfect 3 takes Britney Spears’ Toxic and repeats it so many times, both in a cappella and the original version, that I kind of feel like I’ve fallen out with it. The first two made good songs even better, while this just takes the fun out of the whole thing.

That must be why the film barely even focuses on the fact that the Bellas are taking part in yet another musical competition. Or anything really to do with music at all. Instead, this film takes a very sharp and jarring turn into something else entirely. It is here where we get into talking about Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy, and there’s a reason she was left out of the cast rundown. That lingering fear I had going into the second film about it just becoming The Fat Amy Movie ends up being realized here, as this goes from a rather disinterested musical into a full-blown ‘Melissa McCarthy in Spy’ action film. *SPOILERS*. Turns out that Amy’s father is a career criminal (one whose actual dealings are barely expounded upon) and he kidnaps the Bellas to force Amy to get into a bank account her mother opened for her. She turns up, kicks some ass, and saves them. Now, given how underwhelming the supposed crux of this film is, I honestly have no problem with this change-up on its own. It’s clear that the filmmakers didn’t care about the music side of things anymore, and anything to distract from how tired everyone else is looking has to be a plus. However, because Amy is being further characterized as a pretty awful friend, not to mention sporting some of this film’s more painful one-liners, that doesn’t work either. This isn’t a character I particularly care about one way or another, and the fight scenes come off badly because of that. That, and the fact that the whole “this is suddenly an action flick” thing only lasts for about 5-10 minutes out of the 93 minute running time.

You might have noticed a bit of a central theme with all of these complaints. The listless performances, the aimless story, the jarring plot developments; there’s a common thread tying all of these together: These people do not give a shit. At all. There’s a point in the film where the Bellas get together for a reunion performance at an aquarium… only to be told that they were meeting up just for the socializing, not to sing. Our leads being brought back together to “reunite” without the actual sense of reunion is basically this entire film. What makes this worse is that, on some level, the film is aware of this. Among the rather trying attempts at humour on offer here, a lot of it consists of breaking down the series’ conventions like the Riff-Off and two of the Bellas who have such little presence in the plot that even they’re surprised that people remember their names. There’s even a moment where someone rattles off the usual block of exposition to set up the music competition, just for one of the Bellas to out-and-out call it “exposition”. I’ve talked about self-awareness in cinema before and how it can be quite a valuable asset, but here’s where we meet the more negative side of things. This is a film that is rather crap, knows that it’s rather crap, and rather than try and alleviate the problem, is unfortunately comfortable with being rather crap. If this production is so unsure about whether or not it should even exist, maybe it just shouldn’t.

All in all, this is absolutely woeful. The acting is bland, the music goes in one ear and out the other, the direction doesn’t make either of those problems any easier to sit through, and the script seems to be aware of how much of a blatant cash-grab this whole thing is and could not care less if it tried. The trailer already made this look like it was going to be wonky, since exploding boats aren’t exactly the first thing I associate with the Pitch Perfect films, but even that couldn’t prepare audiences for how slothful this entire production truly is. January is usually the dumping ground for whatever wasn’t fit to get a theatrical release the year prior, and this most certainly fits the bill in the most disheartening way possible. This is the first film of the year, so ranking it at this point is astoundingly redundant, but I have a real feeling that this is going to be a contender for the year’s worst. Prove me wrong, 2018.

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