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Voice change - ‘Pitch Perfect 3’

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Comedy sequel strikes some odd notes

In a Hollywood landscape where the slightest modicum of commercial success practically ensures a sequel, the key to ongoing viability is proving capable of evolution. While audiences crave familiarity, they also want the progression (or in some cases, merely the illusion of progression). The higher the number at the end of your title, the more movement is necessary to maintain the stakes, whatever they are.

“Pitch Perfect 3” is an interesting case. The original movie was a surprise hit, which prompted a sequel that managed to double the box office of its predecessor. And so we come to the third installment, some seven years after the original. It’s bigger, louder and definitely weirder than the films that came before. And he stakes are definitely raised. Raised to a rather absurd degree, actually.

It’s sort of a mess, but an oddly intriguing one.

The Barton Bellas have largely gone their own way. Beca (Anna Kendrick, “Table 19”) is working as a music producer, but her cool girl integrity keeps getting in the way; she’s rooming with the ever-incorrigible Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson, “The Brothers Grimsby”). Chloe (Brittany Snow, “Hangman”) is studying to be a vet; Aubrey (Anna Camp, “The Most Hated Woman in America”) is still doing corporate training. Newer addition Emily (Hailee Steinfeld, “The Edge of Seventeen”) is still in college. The rest of the Bellas are also … doing things.

Honestly, none of it matters in the slightest. It has zero impact on the story, which involves a ridiculous set of circumstances leading to the Bellas becoming part of a USO tour that just happens to include three other acts – a rapper/DJ combo, a hipster country band and an edgy too-cool all-woman rock group called Evermoist (yes really). Oh, and it ALSO turns out that the tour is doubling as a competition to help DJ Khaled (playing himself) choose an opening act for his own upcoming tour.

Oh, and Fat Amy’s long-lost sketchball of a dad (played by a surprisingly-into-it John Lithgow) shows up with promises and apologies that might involve ulterior motives.

It’s a stitched-together nonsense plot that exists solely to move between musical numbers that bear little resemblance to the sounds of the first or even the second film. What happens doesn’t matter. Why it happens matters even less. The sole point seems to be hypersanitized arrangements of already-bland pop songs and a deluge of snarky remarks and snappy comebacks that aren’t nearly as snarky and/or snappy as they believe themselves to be.

And yet … it’s oddly fascinating.

Would you have imagined that a movie about a college vocal group would turn into a globe-hopping adventure involving music, yes, but also high-stakes criminal intrigue? Probably not. But would you have imagined that a movie about illegal street racing would turn into a high-octane action franchise that involves cars, yes, but also super-secret world-saving missions? Because that’s sure as hell what happened to “The Fast and the Furious.”

Of course, it’s foolish to compare the two series. But at the same time, if “Pitch Perfect 5” featured a climactic scene where Anna Kendrick fistfights the Rock on top of a Ferrari launched out of a space shuttle while they duet on an a cappella rendition of “Love is a Battlefield,” would you really be shocked?

Speaking of Kendrick, she’s not bad here. She’s a real talent and doesn’t seem to feel above the material (though she probably should). Wilson is a babbling nightmare as Fat Amy; it’s only Wilson’s inherent charisma that prevents the chattering character from being kind of unbearable. Snow and Camp come off as just happy to be here, and Steinfeld – maybe the most talented performer here – feels woefully underutilized. The rest of the ensemble is nice enough, but basically interchangeable and forgettable (a reality that the movie itself has some fun with). That said, the affection the actors have for one another feels very genuine. It’s an interconnected affinity that somewhat alleviates the lack of character development.

“Pitch Perfect 3” is dumb. But it’s joyfully dumb. Unabashedly dumb. And it’s far more engaging because of it. Again, the music has been overproduced to the point of being uninteresting. The story is threadbare lunacy. The direction is flashy, but sacrifices function for form in a lot of ways.

It’s not a good movie. At all. But it is a watchable movie, and that’s not nothing. By all accounts, this one marks the end of the “Pitch Perfect” saga. But if it continues, I admit to being curious about what happens next.

[2 out of 5]

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