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Despite the abundance of franchises in Hollywood, comedy series remain tough nuts to crack. The funny franchises that pull it off manage to do so by embracing what works and evolving the rest, and that's more or less what Pitch Perfect has managed to accomplish going into its third installment. Trish Sie's Pitch Perfect 3 is rough, unevenly plotted, and cliché in almost every way imaginable, but it's also a genuinely funny film that gets by on the chemistry of its cast.
Picking up with The Barden Bellas in their post-college years, Pitch Perfect 3 focuses its attention on the idea of the quarter-life crisis. Each of the graduated Bellas hates her current situation, and many of them desperately want to return to their golden years as a capella stars. When a planned "reunion" by Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) doesn't go according to plan, Aubrey (Anna Camp) decides to use her father's military connections to get Becca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Chloe (Brittany Snow), and the rest of the Bellas added to the lineup of a European USO tour that doubles as a competition in which the winners get to open for DJ Khaled. Meanwhile, a mysterious and malevolent presence (a delightfully campy John Lithgow) from Amy's past returns and threatens to tear the Bellas apart.
Those are the two main plot threads of Pitch Perfect 3, and while they're definitely not inventive (if anything the film feels like it was shot off of a first draft script), they definitely provide a framework to let the cast have fun. Pitch Perfect 3 throws everything at the wall, and while a significant portion of the jokes doesn't land, there are still plenty of laughs to be had here. In fact, while Pitch Perfect 3 is not the funniest movie of 2017, it's arguably the funniest broad comedy of the year (and possibly even of the last couple of years).
As usual, Rebel Wilson gets the lion's share of the laughs while Anna Kendrick plays the level-headed hero as Becca, but it's also reasonably clear that Pitch Perfect has made a valiant effort to go full ensemble this time around and give everyone a little bit more to do. This shift works for some (Anna Camp and Brittany Snow) better than it does for others. (How is Hailee Steinfeld still playing the straight woman in this franchise after The Edge of Seventeen?) But by and large, Pitch Perfect 3 will generally keep audiences laughing from start to finish -- even if the humor is fairly sophomoric in nature.
Of course, the extent to which Pitch Perfect 3 eventually deviates from the original premise of the franchise is something that might not necessarily sit well with fans. After all, this series started off as a simple story about a collegiate a capella troupe, and now they're going on globetrotting adventures full of explosions and international intrigue. This shift has the potential to jar certain segments of the fanbase, but it needs to be said that it actually feels like a shift that this series has a unique ability to pull off. From the moment Aubrey projectile vomited in the first film, it became abundantly clear that Pitch Perfect would operate with one foot firmly planted in the absurd. Pitch Perfect 3 has taken that one step forward in the vain of the Jump Street franchise by essentially turning Fat Amy into a super spy, and if you're willing to roll with that change, then everything else should work for you here.
Building off of that idea, though it may seem blasphemous, it is worth mentioning that the a capella aspects of the Pitch Perfect franchise may have (weirdly enough) become one of the more unnecessary elements of this universe. The Barden Bellas and their college-based antics were obviously our way into this world when the original Pitch Perfect debuted back in 2012, but now that we have come to love other aspects of these characters, it's worth wondering if it's a necessary plot element anymore. Music will always play a significant role in the dynamic of these characters if future movies happen, but we've reached the point where we just like hanging out with these weirdos regardless of what they're doing.
That's not to say that the music in Pitch Perfect 3 isn't worth your time as well. For the most part, the a capella sequences continue to impress, and there's one scene in which Becca tinkers with a rudimentary House beat by DJ Khaled (who is never not hilarious in anything), that's surprisingly catchy. That said, the music is slowly but surely moving away from its status as the meat of these stories. Yes, we do get another Riff-Off in this movie, but it wears out its welcome quickly as we realize that we just want to get back to what these films still do well: the jokes and the Bella chemistry.
All in all, Pitch Perfect 3 is light on logic or plot but heavy on humor. The Bellas have ventured into the ridiculous, but the shift may reward open-minded fans looking to laugh. It's the furthest thing from high culture, but that's never the role that it wants to inhabit in the first place.