Take Dickens, Add Sugar, Get 'August Rush'


In need of a good seasonal yarn?

Turn to the master, Charles Dickens, or better yet, update and recycle him. Such must have been the thinking behind "August Rush," a thinly disguised retelling of "Oliver Twist, " transplanted to contemporary New York and sweetened by a theme of the healing magic of music.

Your take on this movie may depend on your tolerance for treacle. Craftily made in many respects, especially in its strategic use of its soaring score (by Mark Mancina), "August Rush" is also very predictable, even if you don't know the "Oliver Twist" template. It's an unabashed feel-good weeper, and those eager for that type of fare might as well settle for this one. But an equal number will be put off by the bad dialogue, transparent manipulation and saccharine overkill. At the center of the story is Evan (Freddie Highmore), an 11-year-old resident of an orphanage (where else?) with no knowledge of his parents' identity but convinced they exist and that he'll find them. He's also a super-human musical prodigy, who can play anything and everything by ear.

We learn in flashback that's inherited. His father was a budding rock singer (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and his mother a rising cellist (Keri Russell). They met one night on a rooftop in Washington Square and indulged in a one-night stand after insufferably hopeless romantic dialogue. "What's your story?" he asks. "I'm just me," she answers.

Though instantly in love, they're separated by circumstance. She later gives birth to Evan, but he's snatched away by her father and sent to the orphanage. She's told the baby is stillborn.

Eleven years later, young Evan escapes and comes to the city to find his parents, falling instead into the hands of a Washington Square street musician called Wizard (Robin Williams), who masterminds a gang of juvenile musicians/hucksters much like Fagin tended to his pickpockets. Evan's musical genius — he's given the stage name of August Rush by Wizard — eventually comes to the notice of kinder souls, and a tug of war takes place over the lad's fate that leads to a happy ending and a spectacular Central Park concert of the young man's precocious symphonic composition.

Director Kirsten Sheridan (Jim's daughter) gets credit for the movie's limited virtues, which include her ear for musical accompaniment and her eye for visual settings. (The Wizard's lair is a kind of downtown, abandoned warehouse version of Harry Potter land). She also boasts a fast-clipped, bright visual style that evokes music in its swirls and pacing. And she's solid with the actors, showing off Meyers' edgy romantic allure, making the most of Highmore's irresistible, cherubic mug and toning down Williams for a more "Good Will Hunting"-like restraint and layered villainy.

Get showtimes and movie details for "August Rush."

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