Cynics will want to slice their wrists after watching "August Rush," but I'm not convinced open-hearted believers will suck down this heavy syrup with as much ease as the production is counting on either.
A young boy (Freddie Highmore) who is drawn to the power of music has escaped his orphanage and heads to New York City to find the parents who abandoned him. Meeting a wicked man (Robin Williams) who exploits the homeless children of the city, the boy is rechristened "August Rush" and is sent to the local parks to utilize his musical prodigy gifts for tip money. Across the country, Rush's estranged parents, Lyla (Keri Russell) and Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), feel the urge to reunite after years of separation, following the sounds of Rush's music to the city, where fates are finally primed to collide.
The cinematic flair of "August Rush' is not applied by paint strokes, but via a sopping wet roller. It's a complicated story somehow stripped of its density, shoehorned into a dreary, new-age mediation on the interconnection of love and music. An ambitious feature, "Rush" nevertheless tumbles as it tries to assume the viewpoint of a fairy tale, only without the pesky requirements of suitable character development and sensible plotting.
"Rush" marks the Hollywood debut for director Kirsten Sheridan, daughter of acclaimed filmmaker Jim Sheridan. There's little debate how warmly felt "Rush" is; the director undoubtedly embracing the mysteries and fates of life that litter the screenplay. What I question is her control over the story, which is a spastic beast of sentimental hooey and trite musical liberation; it takes Rush on a hurried journey that finds him homeless, revealed to be a genius, asked to attend a prestigious musical school, and composing his own symphony in just under 110 minutes.
The time also includes asides with Lyla and her quest to find the son she's never met, Louis confronting his rock god past, and Robin Williams in a strange role that has him dressed as an alternate universe Bono and assuming a Fagin-like control over Rush (the "Oliver Twist" fingerprints are everywhere). Did I mention Terrence Howard as a child welfare worker on the hunt for the boy?
The abruptness of the picture as it leaps from character to character is unsettling, revealing that either "Rush" had a 30-hour rough cut or Sheridan just didn't know where to take a stand with the film's focal point. "Rush" isn't confusing, just overstuffed, and it makes the nonstop angelic open-maw gaze from Highmore, the melodramatic line readings from Meyers and Williams, and the film's "music cures all" core message all the more grating and artificial. I'd trade every last scene of curdled slap-guitar marvel for a single moment of authentic emotion.
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