'Pitch Perfect 3' review: Rebel Wilson steals the Bellas' spotlight

Tribune News Service

When the a cappella-themed comedy "Pitch Perfect" debuted in 2012, its success proved audiences were hungry for the style of raucous yet decidedly feminine humor it served up. The inventive musical numbers didn't hurt either, and suddenly, the niche singing style most often seen on college campuses went mainstream.

With "Pitch Perfect 2," the franchise went bigger and broader, to mixed results.

In the final farewell of the trilogy, "Pitch Perfect 3" jettisons the body humor for action-adventure, and leans so far into the weird that it's very, very strange, yet sometimes amusing. At least the music's fun.

The film, written by Kay Cannon and Mike White, directed by "Step Up All In" director Trish Sie, follows the Bellas (formerly of Barden University) as they struggle with life after college. No longer able to perform regularly with their best friends, they're creatively stymied and nostalgic for their collegiate prime. For one last hurrah, they decide to hop on a USO tour, which bizarrely takes place in Spain, Greece and the South of France — not Fallujah.

There's a streak of self-reflection throughout "Pitch Perfect 3," pointing out the formulaic tics of the franchise. "Is there a competition? There always has to be a competition," a manic Chloe (Brittany Snow) breathlessly asks. Of course there is. On the tour, which is somehow sponsored by DJ Khaled (playing himself), four groups will compete to open for him on the last night. The Bellas are feeling insecure when they check out their competition, who all play instruments. They find their rivals in the all-girl rock group Evermoist, headed up by a perfectly smarmy Calamity (Ruby Rose).

And yet, a competition just isn't enough. Adding to the drama are some serious daddy issues. Fat Amy's (Rebel Wilson) long-lost father (John Lithgow) turns up for reconciliation, but he's got more nefarious ulterior motives, and the girls have to put their skills to work to thwart him. It's probably the only spy movie that will involve a choreographed performance of Britney Spears' "Toxic" deployed as a diversion tactic.

The script is dense with jokes, especially oddball one-liners and visual gags. Silent weirdo Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) gets several of these kooky moments, but in general, the storylines feel thin for everyone not named Rebel Wilson. The film is truly a showcase for her brazen and silly brand of humor, and she even gets some wild fight scenes, as she battles her father's henchmen.

Even Anna Kendrick's Beca has been given short shrift on her story. Quitting her job as a music producer kicks off the journey, and she is later faced with a decision about whether to leave her group and go solo, or stick with the team. Frustratingly, she plays both sides. But with the dudes out of the picture, there aren't any tortured romances, just some light flirtation. It's truly a story about female friendship and its persistence. And that harmonies can be deployed to ... fight criminals? The tendency to try and squeeze a cappella into as many incongruous vessels as possible is one of the unfortunate habits of the series, because it's fun enough without all the pyro. "Pitch Perfect 3" is so breezy it's completely weightless, but it manages to deliver just enough of the goods.

"Pitch Perfect 3" — 2.5 stars

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, language and some action)

Running time: 1:33

Opens: Friday

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