August Rush comes dangerously close to being too feel-good for its own good, but the dynamic trio of strong performances, magical imagery and nonstop music prevails.
For the past 11 years--his whole life--Evan (Freddie Highmore) has been an orphan, but that's about to change, along with his name. Evan has ''always heard the music,'' even when it's not playing, and one day he decides to follow it in hopes of finding the parents he's never met and whose musical genes he has inherited. It takes him out of the orphanage he has always despised and into Manhattan, where 11 years prior he was conceived. As we learn via flashback, his parents, both young musicians at the time, were an unlikely match: Lyla (Keri Russell) was a shy, dainty cellist, while Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was a brash Irish rocker. Their mutual love for music ultimately brought them together on a rooftop for just one night, of which Evan turned out to be the product. But when Evan is born prematurely, Lyla's father (William Sadler) does what he thinks is right for her career and gives the newborn up for adoption without her knowledge. Lyla and Louis have since reluctantly given up music, but Evan is about to pick up where they left off, in New York City. While there, he is discovered by a seemingly well-intentioned ''manager'' named Wizard (Robin Williams), who renames the prodigy August Rush. Before long, Wizard is booking gigs in hopes of capitalizing financially, while August hopes to use his music for a slightly nobler purpose: tracking down and reuniting his parents.
Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate) is as much a child-actor prodigy as August Rush is a musician; he's truly in a class of his own. It's not just that the British youngster seamlessly ditches his accent to play an Americanbetter and more undetectably than many of his elders are able to do, might I addor that he's able to pull off the musical aspect (he reportedly mastered the guitar and conducting for further authenticity), but rather that he advances the never-dormant story every step of the way. And it's not every day that a teenager can handle being the centerpiece of a big Hollywood movie (see The Seeker, et al.), but Highmore makes it a non-issue. Russell and Rhys Meyers, meanwhile, add a classy touch of adult to the story with their opposites-attract arc. Russell borders on too pristine and precious at times and Rhys Meyers is written as the stereotype of Irishmen, but they make you believe in the commonality of music as a matchmaker. Williams, however, misfires with his portrayal of the somewhat ambiguous Wizard. It is unclear whether he is a reincarnated pirate or just a well-traveled New Yorker, and Williams plays him with that lack of clarity, but kids will laugh nonetheless when the actor gets loud and hyper. Terrence Howard, as a concerned social worker, and Mykelti Williamson, as a pastor, turn in solid supporting performances, while young Jamia Simone Nash may incite standing ovations with her singing.
The concept of August Rush is most certainly aimed towards those too young to discern between realism and fantasy, but at least director Kirsten Sheridan (Jim's daughter) doesn't patronize kid viewers the way most preteen movies do. While the young director doesn't exactly steer clear of clichés and sap, she makes a concerted effort to place the film's music and sheer energy at the forefront. Sheridan also does the best with what she's given, which is a highly predictable, occasionally preachy scriptwith a tendency to give Highmore cringe-worthy voiceovers (i.e., "Open yourself up to the music around you")written by Nick Castle (Hook, which August Rush often resembles), James V. Hart (The Last Mimzy) and Paul Castro. Just as impressive as the film's omnipresent musicboth "found" (basketball dribbles, etc.) and orchestratedis the look of a somewhat magical Manhattan that is as fun for kids as it is mildly scary. All in all, Sheridan's first big movie is a different, if slightly uneven, kind of kids flick but not so different that the target audience won't dance along.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.