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‘Pitch Perfect 3’ review: Slapdash, strained comedy

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On Thursday Dec. 21, 2017, Newsday film critic Rafer Guzman takes a look at a trio of movies coming out just in time for the holidays. Guzman reviews "Downsizing," "The Post" and "Pitch Perfect 3." (Credit: Newsday / Monte Young)

PLOT A college a cappella group reunites for a USO tour.

CAST Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, John Lithgow

RATED PG-13 (some crude humor)

LENGTH 1:33

BOTTOM LINE Another off-key follow-up to the sparkling original from 2012.

A post-college malaise has settled over the a cappella group the Barden Bellas at the start of “Pitch Perfect 3,” in which the one-time singing champs discover that close harmonies and cute dance moves don’t go very far in the working world. These formerly feted stars are now underemployed as baristas, medical assistants, street buskers or, in the case of Anna Kendrick’s Beca, a music producer chafing under an abusive idiot-artiste named Pimp-Lo (Moises Arias). In other words, what college football traditionally is to men, a cappella is to these women: a memory of the glory days.

If “Pitch Perfect 3” had stuck with these notes — the sharps and flats of adult life — it might have made a poignant-comic counterpart to the sparkling original film, “Pitch Perfect” (2012). Instead, it’s closer to 2015’s off-key and inelegant “Pitch Perfect 2.” Despite the on-screen intelligence of Kendrick, plus a screenplay co-written by Mike White (“School of Rock”), this is a near-plotless, slapdash comedy marked by low-energy improvisation and strained slapstick. The moments of self-awareness, in which characters point out obvious setups (such as the apiary that will ruin a snooty party), don’t make the material any stronger.

What shakes the Bellas out of their routine is nothing more than the line, “Hey, I have a crazy idea,” uttered by Aubrey (Anna Camp), who uses her dad’s military connections to book the Bellas on a USO tour. Joining them are a generic country act, Saddle Up, and a too-cool female band called Evermoist (led by an underused Ruby Rose as Calamity). Competition arises when the headlining act, DJ Khaled (gamely spoofing himself), is revealed to be looking for talent.

If that sounds like textbook sequelitis, just wait: There’s an espionage subplot, too, involving Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and her criminal dad (a welcome John Lithgow). It’s a great excuse for Wilson to shine in an amusing action sequence (one of the few moments director Trish Sie seems to be enjoying herself), but the utter dopeyness of it all is hard to endure. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins return as pompous a cappella pundits, this time making a documentary that serves as a framing device.

If “Pitch Perfect 3” has a strong point, it’s Salvador Perez’s eye-catching costumes, a parade of military-style outfits with rah-rah pizazz and a touch of camp. You know things are bad, though, when you walk out of a comedy thinking about the wardrobe.

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