Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

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August Rush requires the suspension of all disbelief. That’s fine. There’s always room for another urban fantasy, especially one that emphasizes the life-altering power of music. In this case, though, the fun ends fairly early when it becomes apparent the movie’s “musical magic” is merely a gimmick to distract viewers from extremely sloppy, second-rate storytelling.

Prodigious Plot Holes

Williams is gross; a creepy Fagin in leather
Williams is gross; a creepy Fagin in leather

August Rush is the pseudonym given to a parentless child who turns out to be a musical prodigy. His parents are a little bit classical, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Lyla (Keri Russell, Felicity) is a cellist who meets Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Match Point) on a rooftop in New York’s Washington Square. That fateful night of their meeting, they sleep together on the rooftop’s handy-dandy futon and conceive a child.

Incompetent as two lovers on a one night stand for the ages can possibly be, Lyla rushes off in the morning because her dad will be upset with her for being late. Louis has to take off for an airplane.

But, gosh darn it, these two humming birds belong together and Louis forsakes his band mates in order to find Lyla before the flight.

Bending to her dad’s insistence, Lyla darts into a cab instead of giving the desperate bloke her digits — or e-mail address. To say the least, it really irks her dad when the whole pregnancy matter comes up, that’s one sure way to kill her promising career in classical music.

So, later on, when Lyla runs into the street and gets hit by a car, Dad uses that as a device to retool his daughter’s life. Telling her she lost the baby, he gives it up to the perpetual care of the State of New York.

Then things get loopy.

Across the Universe

This kid, August (Freddie Highmore, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), makes Mozart look like a hack. Totally unfazed by his life circumstance, August, by his very genetics, believes in the wholesome, universe-binding power of music. All he needs is for his parents to hear his music and they’ll be brought back together as a complete family. No doubt about it.

Well, in the meantime, Lyla’s become a music teacher in Chicago, having abandoned performing, and Louis is some big-business guy in San Francisco, having abandoned his band.

Poor August hits the streets of New York in search of Mom and Dad, or at least a social worker. Everywhere he goes, he hears music. Because music is all powerful and ties everything together, that means little August can in one scene be trapped in a dead-end subway tunnel and in the next be onstage at Central Park’s Great Lawn, in a tux, conducting his masterpiece.

And thanks to an improbable harmonic convergence, the parental units both find themselves inexplicably drawn to the Big Apple eleven years after their night of romantic rooftop bliss.

It’s a shame the movie’s fairly decent music is drowned out by the sounds of foreheads repeatedly being smacked across the theater in jaw-dropping incredulity.

Run, August, Run!

There are other problems with this movie, believe it or not.

A big one is Robin Williams as a creepy Fagin-like minstrel named the Wizard, who houses a whole horde of homeless kids in a rundown theater called Fillmore East. He’s got red hair, huge sideburns, a large collection of earrings, and black leather. He’s not menacing. He’s gross.

On the night Lyla and Louis make August, there’s a chap in the square playing Moon Dance on the harmonica. Later on, Wizard plays Moon Dance on the harmonica. Could he be that same guy? Does it really matter?

If this movie had any appreciation for the audience’s intelligence, little things like that could have helped create a far more eerie, fateful story and it could have become the epic, sweeping tale of grandiose love set to music that was most likely director Kirsten Sheridan’s intent.

Instead, August Rush jumps from one preposterous situation to another. At one point, August enters a church, drawn in by the upbeat music he hears. The next, he’s dubbed a prodigy and enrolled in Juilliard, where he whips together a little symphony as a homework assignment.

The next, Wizard storms Juilliard, claims August is his son, and takes him away.

It all plays out more like a highlight reel than a coherent movie. As a result, there’s absolutely no sense of danger at any point, because this sugar-coated nonsense has absolutely no depth with which to engender any sense of emotion. Even more sadly, there’s absolutely no magic in this muck that so desperately wants to be perceived as magical.

When August finds himself trapped in that subway, a dead end on one side and Wizard on the other, another street urchin yells, “Run, August, run!”

Good advice, kid. Run far, far away from this flick.