Monday, November 19, 2007

"August Rush" -- * 1/2

Seeing something as original and audacious as Richard Kelly's "Southland Tales" within 24 hours of the pandering and schmaltzy "August Rush" only further reinforced that I'll take a haywire, dizzying excess of ambition over the opposite any day. While I'll acknowledge "Rush" is relatively harmless, it's unquestionably sentimental, generic pap for the type of people who fawn over movies that feature heartstring-pulling familial reunions and little boys in tuxedos. When you can actually mouth the dialogue along with a movie without having seen it before, it's generally not a good sign, and on numerous occasions, I knew exactly where the emotionally stacked screenplay was leading; it's the kind of movie where when someone asks "Do you have children, Mr. Jeffries?", you know the reaction will be a long pause followed by a wistful "I did."

A sugary re-working of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist," "August Rush" features an 11-year-old protagonist who autistically... er, I mean magically... hears music all around him in everyday items. After being placed in an orphanage and separated from his parents (Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys-Meyes) who-- through a hilarious contrivance I won't spoil-- have no idea he exists, our hero Evan (Freddie Highmore) escapes and sets out to reunite with them in New York using his telepathic musical capabilities. Along the way, he becomes a street performer for the villainous Fagin-like Wizard (a gratingly over-the-top Robin Williams) who renames him August Rush, all while social worker Richard Jeffries (Terrence Howard) scours the city for him.

I'm all for sugary-sweet movies that touch the heart or put a smile on your face (also in theaters: "Martian Child," "Lars and the Real Girl," "Dan in Real Life"), but "August Rush" takes sentimentality to such heights that I couldn't help rolling my eyes and shifting uncomfortably in my seat for its two-hour duration. I know this movie is charming some people who normally don't go for this type of thing, and honestly, I don't get it. I felt manipulated at every turn, from the whimsical opening narration to its "Run, August, Run!" conclusion. Nonetheless, the sneak preview audience surrounding me (shockingly almost all adults) seemed to eat it up, and broke into unanimous applause before the closing credits even came up. The film's ardent early supporters have understandably expressed concern about it getting lost in the proverbial shuffle this upcoming Thanksgiving weekend among six (count 'em, six) national releases... frankly, it deserves to.

"August Rush" opens in theatres nationwide this Wednesday, November 21st.


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