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Pitch Perfect 3

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For a film series that began with a classic message about finding oneself in college and learning to make the most of your talents, it’s disconcerting to say the least that the final film in the trilogy begins not just with the obligatory song and dance, but also with an exploding yacht. It seems unlikely that there are many “Pitch Perfect” fans that wanted to see their favorite fictional a cappella group in the plot of a bad James Bond movie, and audience members that weren’t on board with the franchise thus far will hardly be convinced by the new direction.  “Pitch Perfect 3,” directed by Trish Sie (“Step Up: All In”) and featuring returning stars Anna Kendrick (“Trolls”), Rebel Wilson (“Bridesmaids”) and Hailee Steinfeld (“The Edge of Seventeen”), spends its two-hour runtime destroying any sense of goodwill the audience may have had for these characters and solidifies the series’ fate as a forgotten relic that remains at the bottom of the five dollar Walmart bin.

From the opening sequence that seemingly trades in musical hijinks for low-budget spy parody, the film rapidly descends into a mockery of itself. The plot (so much as there is one) revolves around the Barton Bellas’s trip across Europe while performing at United States army bases in an attempt to convince DJ Khaled to make them the opening act of his next show. If that premise sounds silly on paper, it’s even more preposterous on screen, with Khaled strolling through the picture for a number of cameos that feel not only tacked on, but also like they were filmed in the span of a day or two. While the audience is continually reminded by the script every few minutes that almost all of the Bellas have romantic interests in someone in another band, the film stumbles and trips through these storylines in a fashion reminiscent of a poor game of darts. There’s a lot being thrown at the wall here, but almost none of it sticks.

For what it’s worth, Kendrick is still the highlight of these movies, and her arc, although incredibly similar to her storyline from “Pitch Perfect 2,” is in fact the only part of the movie with any kind of emotional resonance whatsoever. Even the most coldhearted of individuals will find it hard not to smile when the gang at last gets their big reunion song on stage at the end. It doesn’t strike nearly as strong a chord as it might have if the movie was actually a good or even decent meditation on leaving your college friends and safe life on campus behind yet still trying desperately to keep in touch with that part of yourself, but “Pitch Perfect 3” simply isn’t up to that challenge. Even the once-exciting a cappella numbers feel forced here, serving only to remind the audience of better scenes in better films. The film overall suffers from the feeling that it was totally and completely unnecessary. There isn’t really much of a story left to tell for the Bellas, and it shows here, with the movie falling quickly into the kind of hollow narrative structure that reeks of late ’90s sequels. An early rendition of the riff-off competition (one of the highlights of the first two films) feels completely lifeless and perfunctory here. It’s easy to see that scene as a metaphor for the film as a whole. The Bellas fall totally flat against the competition. Like the “Pitch Perfect” film franchise, all of their best days are behind them.

I’m not referring to the general public’s indulgence of their on-screen hijinks (although that does befuddle me). No, I’m more concerned with why anyone in the Pitch Perfect-verse (do I have to call it that?) puts up with them. Over three increasingly less-entertaining movies, why do a bevy of supporting characters swoon over them while their rivals eventually admit a grudging respect for them? Why are they treated like goofy, but ultimately good-hearted people? Why are we expected to like them?

Because, quite frankly, the Barden Bellas are the worst. They’re selfish, they’re spoiled, they’re rude to strangers and each other, they seem to have no skills, interests, or lives outside of a capella singing, and they’re all quite dim. They spend most of their time complaining, starting fights, and bickering with one another. Spending any longer than an hour with these craven monsters would probably constitute inhuman treatment under the Geneva Convention. I mean, in Pitch Perfect 3, one of them is revealed to be literally possessed by a demon.

And I haven’t even mentioned the queen of odious behaviour: Fat Amy. Played by Rebel Wilson with her typical lack of subtly or nuance, Fat Amy is one of cinema’s greatest villains. A cold-blooded sociopath with no regard for anything but her own insatiable ego, Amy is truly detestable. She’s cruel, stupid, vulgar, crass, annoying, and vapid beyond belief. The fact the she’s meant to be the comic relief for this series is something I can’t wrap my head around. She’s more evil than Emperor Palpatine.

Pitch Perfect 3 (the promised final chapter in this acca-trilogy…oh, no, now I’m doing it) is a textbook example of diminishing returns. The two-dimensional, but fun characters from the first film have now overstayed their welcome in this third entry. They have nothing new to learn, no interesting adventures to go on, and no more depths to explore. But the studio demanded another Pitch Perfect, so the Barden Bellas are dragged through one more intolerable excursion before the ride off into that sweet goodnight. And the filmmakers make the characters and the movie so miserable that not even the most ardent fan will demand a Pitch Perfect 4.

Beca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy, and all the other characters with interchangeable personalities have been standing around doing nothing since Pitch Perfect 2, so when an opportunity arises to play at a USO show with DJ Khaled (played by famed non-actor DJ Khaled), they jump on it. But, in typical Pitch Perfect fashion, they have to compete with other bands, including an all-girl rock group called EverMoist, because apparently it’s still 1998.

There’s no narrative momentum in P3 (as we cool kids call it). Things just happen without much character or plot motivation. The film is a series of loosely connected incidents that eventually stumble into a limp climax. This movie is a rare case where a subplot complete overtakes the main plot in third act and serves as the grand finale. It’s lazy, uninvolving writing.

There are vague themes of family and growing up, but they don’t connect with anything that actually happens in the story.  It’s just the same surface-level fluff from the last two movies. Cinematic regurgitation.

The gags are limp, mostly based on topical references that will be out of date in a months. Once in a while a joke lands, but they’re few and far between. The a capella singing, the main attraction in these movies, is awful. They cranked the cringe meter to 11 for every song. It’s no longer funny; it’s just annoying.

The cast is low energy and bored. Anna Kendrick is on pure auto-pilot as she cashes one more paycheque. Rebel Wilson solidifies herself as one of the worst actresses in Hollywood today with her abysmal performance. John Lithgow puts on an Australian accent as he sleep walks through a weak villain role. The less said about DJ Khaled’s so-bad-it’s-almost-brilliant performance, the better.