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New in Theaters December 23: Sing, Passengers, Assassin's Creed, Why Him?, Fences

View Chris Kavan's Profile

By Chris Kavan - 12/22/16 at 06:51 AM CT

Hollywood is sure in the giving spirit over the Christmas Holiday weekend. As if the bounty of Rogue One isn't enough, no less than five films are opening, each trying to grab a slice of the pie. A big, animated offering looks to snag the family crowd away from Moana, a new sci-fi offering will try to fend off Star Wars, an action film based on a blockbuster video game franchise, a comedy and a drama looking to compete this awards season. Three have already opened on Wednesday, the comedy drops Friday while our Oscar hopeful goes wide on Christmas Day. Is there room enough for everyone? It's going to be crowded and not everyone is going to come out a winner.

SING Moana has been riding a wave of goodwill among family audiences for the last four weeks, but it is about to get some big competition. Sing, which focuses on a down-on-his-luck theater owner a koala named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) who comes up with a brilliant idea to save his ailing business: a singing competition. And what a competition we get - Taron Egerton plays a gorilla whose father wants him to follow in his criminal empire, but the soulful singer has a much different plan in mind; Scarlett Johansson portrays the hard-rocking porcupine Ash; Reese Witherspoon is Rosita, a porcine mother with big talent but who is overshadowed by her gregarious husband, Gunter (Nick Kroll) but wants to prove her talent; Tori Kelly is an elephant with big dreams and a big voice, but who needs to find the confidence to shine; Seth MacFarlane is Mike the Mouse - small in statue but he makes up for it in bravado and swagger; and more: John C. Reilly, Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Saunders, Jay Pharoah, Nick Offerman, Leslie Jones and Rhea Perlman are some of the other big names adding to this impressive cast. Plus, the trailers just make this look like a lot fun - great music, big voices, emotional impact - everything you could want in an animated film. It's pretty much going to dominate the family crowd over the next few weeks and it should make plenty of noise.

PASSENGERS If Sing is going to put the biggest dent in Moana's audience, Passengers is going to be the biggest threat to Rogue One. Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in this sci-fi adventure (with a bit of romance thrown in) about a colony ship leaving for a distant planet that has a malfunction in the sleeping pods causing the two to awake 90 years early. From the looks of the trailers, Pratt and Lawrence have some great chemistry going on - which is good, because the only other character of note seems to be Martin Sheen's robot bartender. In any case, of course things go wrong and the two are forced to work together in order to save the ship from disaster - if a secret doesn't tear them apart first. I have high hopes for this. It looks smart and interesting and certainly enjoyable. Whether it can muster up enough to topple Rogue One remains to be seen.

ASSASSIN'S CREED Here we go again - another video game adaptation tries to make a name for itself. Angry Birds managed to do a servicable job (even though it missed the craze and came out years too late) and Warcraft was huge globally but was a bust domestically. Assassin's Creed is a popular franchise (though one I haven't played myself) and they have a great lead in Michael Fassbender (joined by the likes of Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling and Michael Kenneth Williams) but I can't help feeling a major "Prince of Persia" vibe emanating from this one. It looks good - but I don't think there's enough here to distinguish itself among the crowd. It doesn't help that the plot line of Assassin's Creed involves jumping in to the body of an ancestor (and a master assassin at that) and traversing 15th century Spain. While this is the most blockbuster film out of the bunch, I have a feeling it's going to get lost in the crowd and open to middling numbers.

WHY HIM? They have really been ramping up the advertising for Why Him? lately. The film involves an over-protective father (Bryan Cranston) who learns his daughter (Zoey Deutch) had been dating an eccentric Silicone Valley tech billionaire (James Franco) and he is ready to pop the question. But the more he learns about the boyfriend, the more he wants to make sure the two never wind up together. It all seems like a very light, straight-forward comedy with an above-average cast. Megan Mullally, Cedric the Entertainer and Griffin Gluck help round out the cast. It's going to be behind the eightball as it doesn't release until Friday, but the best thing it has going for it is the lack of competition. Office Christmas Party is the only other game in town and while it has the holiday advantage with its theme, people who have already seen it are looking for something new to tickle their funnybone. Still, I don't see Why Him? breaking out and it will probably fall somewhere in the middle as well.

FENCES The final big film of the long holiday weekend is Denzel Washington's Fences. Directed and starring the versatile actor - who has already done a successful stage production of the story, it reunites him with Viola Davis as the man, his wife and family struggle with race relations in the 1950s and he struggles with coming to terms with the events in his life. This is right up there with Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight and La La Land as being one of the top contenders for the upcoming Academy Awards. This is a strong, emotional journey and Washington is not stranger to playing powerful roles. I don't know what its chances at the box office are considering the hefty competition, but if it can scratch out a decent opening, I wouldn't at all be surprised to see its name on several ballots in the near future.

It's going to be a wild weekend. Rogue One will have its galactic hands full fending off rivals Sing and Passengers while the rest are going to fight tooth and nail to claw to a place in the top five. I'll see you Monday with the post-Christmas results.


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