Critics Consensus

Sing Is Mostly On Key

Plus, Assassin's Creed and Passengers are big disappointments, Why Him? is only marginally better, and Fences is Certified Fresh.

by | December 21, 2016 | Comments

This holiday weekend at the movies, we have Michael Fassbender in ancient Spain (Assassin’s Creed, co-starring Marion Cotillard), Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in space (Passengers), a koala on the verge of losing his business (Sing), Bryan Cranston in competition with James Franco (Why Him?), and Denzel Washington and Viola Davis returning to the roles that won them Tony Awards (Fences). Let’s see what the critics have to say.

Sing (2016) 72%

Animation fans are pretty spoiled these days: the best of the genre is better than ever, and even most downmarket titles boast spectacular 3D CGI and incredible voice casts. Critics say Sing, the latest release from Despicable Me studio Illumination Entertainment, falls somewhere toward the top of the middle of the pack. Its story, about a theater-owning koala (Matthew McConaughey) who desperately tries to stave off bankruptcy by hosting a singing competition, may not amount to a whole lot more than an excuse for a series of sight gags and musical numbers, but that’s more than enough — writer-director Garth Jennings effectively wrangles the efforts of a talented cast that also includes Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, and John C. Reilly, leaving audiences with a happy family-friendly alternative to repeat viewings of Moana at the cineplex this weekend.

Assassin's Creed (2016) 18%

Video game adaptations have earned a pretty miserable reputation over the years — and on paper, it looked like Assassin’s Creed might be the movie to change all that. With Michael Fassbender in the lead — and in the producer’s chair! — plus a proper blockbuster-sized budget at its back, it appeared poised to break the genre’s curse with a sweeping action thriller epic about a man launched into the memories of an adventurous ancestor and pitted into a centuries-long battle between the assassins’ guild and the Knights Templar. The building blocks for a franchise are here, in other words, but as we’ve seen all too often over the years, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been put to good use. Such is sadly the case with Assassin’s Creed, which critics say stirs the bestselling games into a CGI-coated knot of set pieces and confused narrative; while the combined efforts of Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are good for quite a lot, they’re not enough to carry the weight of all this senseless spectacle. For diehard Creed fans, a trip to the theater might be compulsory; for everyone else, it’s probably best just to wait for that long-planned Mortal Kombat reboot.

Passengers (2016) 30%

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence are two of the biggest movie stars on the planet, and a couple of talented thesps besides. Put ’em on a spaceship, give ’em a meet cute, and all that talent should do the rest… right? Well, maybe not. Critics say its stars are undeniably charming, but for all its sci-fi pleasures, Passengers is fatally sunk by a narrative twist that — while we won’t share it here — takes a movie that looks on the surface like a futuristic rom-com and turns it into something far darker and much more problematic. Based on their performances here, Lawrence and Pratt may well make a terrific movie together someday; unfortunately, reviews state emphatically that this isn’t it. Even if you’ve just gotta see everything these stars are in — or have a soft spot for spaceship romances with disturbing subtexts — you’ll want to book a different voyage.

Why Him? (2016) 39%

There’s absolutely no shortage of comedies about dads who can’t stand their daughters’ boyfriends, but if we have to get another one, it might as well be from one of the guys who wrote Meet the Parents, right? With Why Him?, director John Hamburg tinkers with the dynamic by making the suitor a billionaire tech bro (James Franco) whose clueless enthusiasm and gauche sensibilities send his girlfriend’s fuddy-duddy father (Bryan Cranston) sailing over the edge into a comedic contest of wills. It’s obviously a popular formula, but critics say in this case, it’s sadly ineffective; while fitfully funny if you’re in the right state of mind, the end results aren’t anywhere near as entertaining as they ought to be. Why Him? might be worth checking out on a plane a few months from now — in the meantime, you’ve got loads of better options.

Fences (2016) 92%

Turning a play into a movie is tricky — a script that sets off emotional fireworks on the stage can feel artificially constructed and constrained on the big screen. Those risks run even higher with source material like August Wilson‘s Fences, a Pulitzer and Tony-winning hit that focuses on a postwar Pittsburgh household to examine American race relations, socioeconomic conditions, and family dynamics. It’s the type of production whose themes and dialogue do most of the heavy lifting, in other words — and critics say it’s very much to director Denzel Washington’s credit that he resists any impulse to broaden Fences‘ narrative scope in order to simulate added cinematic sweep. Reprising their Tony-winning stage roles, Washington and Viola Davis return to the story with gusto — and reviews say the result is a thought-provoking drama to savor.

Also Opening This Week In Limited Release

  • The Bad Kids (2016) , a documentary about the troubled home lives of children enrolled at a California alternative school, is at 100 percent.
  • Silence (2017) , Martin Scorsese‘s long-gestating drama about a pair of missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) on a perilous quest to rescue a missing colleague (Liam Neeson), is Certified Fresh at 93 percent.
  • Toni Erdmann (2016) , a comedy about the emotional tug of war between a woman and her eccentric father, is Certified Fresh at 92 percent.
  • Hidden Figures (2017) , starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe in a historical drama about the team of African-American women mathematicians who helped NASA launch their first successful space missions, is at 91 percent.
  • I, Daniel Blake (2017) , an acclaimed Ken Loach drama about the bureaucratic nightmare faced by members of the British working class who fall on hard times, is Certified Fresh at 90 percent.
  • The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) , about the freaky developments that transpire during the autopsy of a Jane Doe, is at 86 percent.
  • A Monster Calls (2017) , about the magical turn taken in a boy’s struggle to cope with his mother’s illness, is Certified Fresh at 85 percent.
  • Julieta (2016) , writer-director Pedro Almodóvar‘s look at a woman whose life is upended after her estranged daughter returns, is Certified Fresh at 79 percent.
  • Live By Night (2017) , starring Ben Affleck — who also wrote and directed — and Elle Fanning in an adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel about a notorious bootlegger and gangster in 1920s Boston, is at 29 percent.

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