We have, I'm happy to report, hit the point where the Pitch Perfect movies don't give a fuck any more. The first Pitch Perfect, many lifetimes ago back in 2012, was a genuinely good musical comedy; Pitch Perfect 2, from 2015, was a tepid retread that broadened everything and in the process cheapened it. On one level, Pitch Perfect 3 simply continues the arc: where before, series screenwriter Kay Cannon fell from inspiration to laziness, here she falls again (aided and abetted by Mike White, the first time Cannon has shared credit in this franchise) from laziness to desperation. It is clearly the "worst" Pitch Perfect, both by virtue of its erratic storyline and its exhausted musical numbers, by far the weakest in a trilogy where the musicals have, to a degree, been the main attraction.

On the other hand, it's also the weirdest Pitch Perfect by a whole lot, telling us right in its opening scene (one of those "preview something that happens at the very end and then flash back" jobs) that in addition to being a comedy about a group of young women bonding against the world, and a musical about an a capella group that's hopelessly outclassed by its competitors but has the heart to compensate for it, Pitch Perfect 3 has its eyes on being a James Bond parody. Which is, I think we can all agree, an unexpected direction for the series to take.

That being said, after its delightfully peculiar intro - the post-college members of the Barden Bellas singing "Toxic" a capella, culminating in an action-movie freeze frame of lead Bellas Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) diving from an explosion - Pitch Perfect 3 suffers from a significant, protracted energy drop, as it joylessly arranges all its pieces on the chessboard. One of the film's greatest strengths, but also one of its biggest liabilities, is how very self-aware it is that a third Pitch Perfect movie has no inherent artistic reason to exist, and so it pressures its characters into the plot with a big, broad wink about how arbitrary and forced it all is. And thank God that the film has a sense of humor about itself, but it still falls into that fuzzy area where acknowledging one's own stupidity does not obviate the stupidity.

Cutting to the chase, the Bellas-that-were have all ended up in miserable, soul-crushing jobs - or worse, miserable, soul-crushing unemployment (note that this opening exposition, which is rushed as hell, contradicts that we're told by the same characters near the end in some cases) - but have a chance to go to Europe and perform with the USO at bases in Spain, Greece, Italy, and France. And wouldn't you know it, there's a contest involved, too: DJ Khaled (playing himself) needs an opening act for his big televised USO event - are there big televised USO events? - and he'll be choosing from whichever of the four groups touring together impresses him the most.

So it's boilerplate for this series, and presented without any pretense towards being anything else. It's all a bit dull and rote, when it isn't actively dreadful - as in, for example, the return for the third time of nasty-minded color commenters Gail (Elizabeth Banks, who directed Pitch Perfect 2) and John (John Michael Higgins), whose presence is explained away this time because they're making an insulting documentary about the ex-Bellas. And this passes beyond jokes into surrealist cruelty, so forced and perfunctory and totally inauthentic that it honestly hurts to watch it. Nothing else, thankfully, is quite as transparently bad as Gail and John.

Once the plot actually starts up, the weirdness does too, and not just because an international crime thriller starts to find its way into the movie at this point. The standard singing battle scene - flagged in dialogue as a sort of weird thing to insist on as part of the narrative formula - transforms into a busy, chaotic sequence that the character themselves can't quite follow through the editing. And there's something delightful about watching that happen: whatever else is true of the movie, the cast is having fun, and Kendrick gives phenomenal reaction shots, particularly when she's glassy-eyed and confused like here.

And then there is the matter of the crime thriller, which comes on the back of the weirdest thing in the whole damn movie, John Lithgow's outlandish, sloppy performance as Amy's shady father. I'm not entirely sure whether Lithgow can't do an Australian accent, or if he is merely electing not to in this particular case. Either way, when he first crops up, the movie takes an abrupt swerve into a vein of absurdity that goes beyond the silliness of the first two movies, and that absurdity persists even in all the other plotlines: an attack of honeybees in a burning hotel room; DJ Khaled attempting to do something that in any way, shape, or form resembles "screen acting", that kind of absurdity.

There comes a point, basically, where Pitch Perfect 3 just does Not Give Any Fucks. The characters sure give some fucks; I'm pretty sure the actors do too, at least some of them. But the film, the film, now it seems to consider us its co-conspirators in how much we can all fail to take this seriously. "Fat Amy has a secret bad dad", it smirks. And if that proves to be insufficient for us to call bullshit, "Fat Amy's bad dad has an Australian accent that sounds like John Lithgow is committing a hate crime". And if we still don't blink, "Fat Amy's fake Australian dad is a Bondian supervillain, complete with a high-tech yacht". Continue to run that same series of escalating improbabilities on literally every single plot point, big or small, from Beca's unexpected success as an impromptu music producer, to the foundation of the movie itself (the film openly mocks itself for settling on "last-minute USO tour" as a plot device).

Sure, there are bits in here that are simply good: the interplay between the Bellas, the only reason for this series to have ever stuck around, is still cute and warm while remaining prickly enough that it has a healthy edge of mean humor. Director Trish Sie, a music video veteran and helmer of the last Step Up movie (2014's Step Up All In), proves oddly ineffective at staging musical numbers, but she's great at timing out the rhythm of conversations and helping the cast nail their jokes, and along with editors Craig Alpert and Colin Patton, she keeps the pacing upbeat, treating the singing scenes like action, and the action scenes like dances.

It's all bizarrely satisfying, considering how absolutely dumb so much of it is. This isn't the end to the Pitch Perfect saga that anyone would have anticipated, and yet there's a peculiar correctness to it anyway; this has always been a franchise to have fun with goofiness, and now that just becomes manifest. I don't mind saying, I'm a little disappointed that there almost certainly won't be a Pitch Perfect 4; now that the franchise has thrown all caution to the wind, I'd love to see what blind alleys it might chase down; the characters, at least, are strong enough for that, and an acutely broken movie is cooler than a by-the-books sequel anyway.

Reviews in this series
Pitch Perfect (Moore, 2012)
Pitch Perfect 2 (Banks, 2015)
Pitch Perfect 3 (Sie, 2017)