"August Rush" is the silliest film, and I don't mean that in a positive way. It tries very hard to be fanciful, lyrical, sentimental, magical, rapturous, romantic, heartwarming, tear-jerking and inspiring. The result, however, is a goulash of half-baked bathos.
One starry night in New York an Irish guitarist named Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and a classical cellist, Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell), meet at a party and enjoy a night of rooftop bliss. It's instant love. However, just as in a dark fairy tale, Lyla is whisked away by her big bad father and the two lovebirds are irreparably separated. Apparently cellphones and the Internet are not really up and running in cloud cuckooland.
Louis is disconsolate and gives up his music. (Not such a bad thing, judging from the folkie hollering that we hear.) Lyla carries his child but, following an auto accident, is led to believe by bad daddy that she lost the baby. In fact, he put it up for adoption. The child, raised in an orphanage, is a musical prodigy who somehow knows his parents are alive and believes his music-making will someday reunite them all.
The boy (Freddie Highmore), who's about 11, escapes from the orphanage and winds up cadging for money on the streets and living with other homeless boys in the abandoned Filmore East Theater – which is symbolic no doubt, though I'm not sure of what. The Fagin to all these Oliver Twists is the cowboy-hatted Wizard, played by Robin Williams in what must surely be the worst performance of his up-and-down career. (By comparison, his dismal "Patch Adams" ranks with Olivier's "Othello.")
Wizard, ever on the lookout to exploit his charges, recognizes a prodigy when he hears one and dubs the boy "August Rush" after seeing a summer closing sale announcement. It could be worse. If Wizard had instead been on a college campus, the boy might have ended up as "Freshman Rush."
Director Kirsten Sheridan directs in a close-up-heavy, ga-ga style that at least is in keeping with the ga-ga script. But such a script! (The perpetrators are Nick Castle and James V. Hart, who wrote "Hook" for Steven Spielberg). When August says, "I believe in music the way some people believe in fairy tales," you feel like saying, "No kidding." Enrolled in Juilliard, he composes a symphony that is scheduled to be performed in Central Park, with him conducting no less, and, sadly, his magnum opus sounds more like Montovani than Mozart.
But hey, if it lures his parents back into the fold, who cares? As they push their way trancelike to the stage, the movie turns into a bizarro cross between "Mr. Holland's Opus" and "Night of the Living Dead."
Poetic conceits only work if they're poetic. Grade: D+
• Rated PG for some thematic elements, mild violence, and language.