Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman had better watch out. She just might have some competition on the shortlist of movie heroines capable not only of saving the day, but also a franchise. Her who’d-a-thunk challenger: Rebel Wilson, whose sassy fightin’ moves during a gleefully preposterous hostage rescue jumpstart “Pitch Perfect 3” when even the trilogy capper’s signature a cappella sometimes can’t.
The movie teases its action dabbling before rewinding to show what a drag life after college is for the Barden Bellas. Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a frustrated music producer, Fat Amy (Wilson) does a thankless busking routine, Chloe (Brittany Snow) is a veterinary mop-up drudge — the list goes on. Then, during a barstool pity party with undergrad pal Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) and the rest of the sisterhood, Army brat Aubrey (Anna Camp) suggests hitting the USO circuit along the Mediterranean for a last hurrah. The gig she has in mind even includes a chance to compete for a featured spot alongside tour headliner DJ Khaled. (Screwball a cappella aficionados John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks are back to document it all in an “aca-mentary,” natch.)
The Bellas’ excitement at the gorgeous scenery (and soldiers) fizzles when they realize that their polished competitors all use — gasp! — instruments. While this lends a new dimension to the requisite riff-offs, it also dilutes the sound that the series’ audience knows and loves. And ultimately, scowling Calamity (Ruby Rose) and her all-female hard rock band just aren’t as much fun as the Bellas’ past nemeses (notably Adam “Bumper” DeVine, unceremoniously written out).
The Bellas are energetic, of course, but it’s telling that our focus drifts from their performances to their neo-Andrews Sisters tour fashions. The numbers just aren’t as dynamic as we might have hoped for from director Trish Sie, whose credits include alt-rock act OK Go’s “treadmill video” and other addictively innovative shorts. Couple this with the installment’s lack of another clear breakout tune a la “Cups” or “Flashlight,” and things get to a point where you might itch for the tie-in to that nutty opener.
Enter John Lithgow as a dodgy figure from Fat Amy’s past, one who greases the skids for action. In some other movie, this entire arc would be an idea as iffy as Lithgow’s hammy Australian accent. Here, it’s just the touch of added silliness that the series needs to avoid going out on a low note.
PITCH PERFECT 3
Directed by Trish Sie. Written by Kay Cannon. Starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Hailee Steinfeld, John Lithgow. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 93 minutes. PG-13 (crude and sexual content, language, some action).Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.