The New York City of August Rush is a city where the most dangerous person you’re likely to encounter on the streets is someone who’ll exploit your musical talent for money. That’s what happens to cute musical prodigy Evan (Highmore), a sad orphan who runs away from his seemingly innocuous group home to search for his parents. Following the music of his soul (or something like that), he heads to NYC, where he’s picked up by a Dickensian mentor/corruptor called Wizard (Williams, disturbingly pierced and soul-patched), absorbed into a photogenically diverse group of street-musician moppets and rechristened August Rush.
This is one of the more plausible things that happens in Kirsten Sheridan’s misguided fable, which follows Evan/August from the orphanage to the streets to the stage at Central Park in his effort to reunite with his cellist mom (Russell) and rock-singer dad (Meyers). Neither of them knows he exists, and they haven’t seen each other since the fateful night on which he was conceived (in a fuzzy, PG-rated sort of way) more than a decade before.
Opening with Highmore’s solemn, florid narration, which crops up periodically throughout the film, Rush is pitched as a modern-day fairy tale about the power of music. But Sheridan (daughter of filmmaker Jim Sheridan) lacks the sense of whimsy necessary to carry off so many illogical plot developments, and the leaden script is full of empty romantic pronouncements that sound neither believable nor wondrous. The movie is infused with some often very good music, and Highmore almost pulls off the idea that his character can hear melodies in all the everyday sounds of life.
None of the actors, however, seems even remotely capable of playing a musical instrument; by the time Evan/August is conducting the New York Philharmonic, whatever shred of verisimilitude, either musical or emotional, that the film once had is long gone. Sheridan instead pours on the sap, the histrionics (paging Mr. Williams) and the sweeping camera moves, never trusting her audience to make the obvious connections that she keeps hammering home. Love conquers all, music brings people together and the movie does everything it can to make this miracle seem dull and commonplace.
Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Robin Williams
Directed by Kirsten Sheridan