Friday 16 November 2018

Cinema: Pitch Perfect 3 - rude, rambunctious and more or less hits its targets.

Cert: 12A; Now showing

The Bellas, a glossy whirlwind of synchronised dancing and warbling
The Bellas, a glossy whirlwind of synchronised dancing and warbling

Slick acapella song numbers, snappy and sassy humour and the ample buffoonery of Rebel Wilson proved an unstoppable combination when Pitch Perfect (2012) and follow-up Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) twerked their way to box-office bonanzas.

Competitions have been won - seemingly the raison d'etre of every film involving song or dance troupes - and now the Bellas and their leader Beca (Anna Kendrick) need something else to occupy them for a third instalment. Only one thing for it - another competition, but this time, overseas.

All the girls are struggling with post-graduate life. Fat Amy (Wilson) is peddling a shambolic stage show. Chloe (Brittany Snow) is trying to become a vet. Beca, meanwhile, is going nowhere in her grown-up job as a music producer. For this reason, the gang decide to reform The Bellas for a shot at playing for US Army officers posted in Europe. Off they go, a glossy whirlwind of synchronised dancing and warbling X Factor harmonies, to be dumped in the path of dastardly - and instrument-wielding - rival outfits and dreamboat flirtations.

Trish Sie made a name for herself directing finely choreographed and YouTube-smashing music videos for the band OK Go, and her eye for shooting the many music sequences is undeniable. The plotted comedy in between, meanwhile, is rude, rambunctious and more or less hits its targets.

But the real hit of this third PP outing comes, as ever, from the cast. Kendrick is an effortlessly likeable hero who serves her humour with a dash of vulnerability. We will inevitably tire of Wilson sooner or later, but until then she remains good value for money. John Lithgow and Elizabeth Banks feature.★★★★ Hilary A White

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Did the original Jumanji film have enough of a following to merit a follow up 22 years later?

Perhaps this version, a sequel of sorts, not a remake, is designed to lure fans of the original who are now parents.

It's not strictly a kids' film, but from perhaps age six it is one that children, teens and adults will enjoy. It's great fun and nowhere near as annoying as a cast including Jack Black and Kevin Hart should be.

Director Jake Kasdan sets up the explanation, Jumanji the board game that came to dangerous life when Robin Williams played it was then made into an old-fashioned video game. Now four very different students in a US high school get detention, Breakfast Club style. They discover the old video game and get sucked into it and while their personalities remain the same, their physiques change. Skinny nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff) becomes thunderously muscly Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Jock 'Fridge' (Ser'Darius Blain) becomes diminutive zoologist Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), terribly serious Martha (Morgan Turner) becomes ass-kicking sex pot Ruby (Karen Gillan) and gorgeous airhead Bethany (Madison Iseman) becomes Jack Black.

The plot is wafer thin, the characters cliched, the lesson predictable and the backdrop unimaginative but for ★★★ Aine O'Connor

The Greatest Showman

Cert: PG; Opens December 26

As a musical The Greatest Showman works. It's not quite up to Baz Luhrmann level but is definitely of that ilk, it looks good, the costumes and sets are colourful and dreamy and the performers give it socks. La La Land lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul provide lots of uplifting lines about dreams and positive feelings and so, to repeat, as a musical, The Greatest Showman works.

However, as a biopic it works less well. PT Barnum was a lowly born but ambitious boy who grew into Hugh Jackman. Despite her father's best efforts he managed to marry his wealthy childhood sweetheart, Charity, who grew into Michelle Williams. The film describes a man who wanted the world and saw a way by collecting unusual people, people who got stared at anyway, and paying them to be stared at. There are protesters and snobbery, but they just don't have the same everyman vision as Barnum. Any and all aspect of exploitation is eradicated and Barnum's reckless egomania is presented as a loveable foible, just as his social climbing via society playwright (Zac Efron) is presented as cute. It serves to sanitise, and strip true character interest from, this repackaging of the American Dream. Anyone who wants it bad enough just needs to work and believe (i.e. if you don't have it, it's your own fault) which feels like propaganda in the current economic climate where working poverty is biting hard. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

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