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Originally published Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"August Rush" | You're going to cry. Just accept it.

A note to all you budding little Mozarts out there: the Juilliard School, world-class conservatory for performing arts, will be happy to enroll any preteen genius composer without the nuisance of a consent from parents, guardians or official child-services types.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

"August Rush," with Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Terrence Howard, Robin Williams. Directed by Kirsten Sheridan, from a screenplay by Nick Castle and James V. Hart, based on a story by Castle and Paul Cassro. 100 minutes. Rated PG for some thematic elements, mild violence and language. Several theaters.

A note to all you budding little Mozarts out there: the Juilliard School, world-class conservatory for performing arts, will be happy to enroll any preteen genius composer without the nuisance of a consent from parents, guardians or official child-services types.

At least, that's the wacky impression one gets watching "August Rush," a movie that requires more suspension of disbelief than "Transformers." A major tear-jerker with strained allusions to Dickens and cloying passages of musical rapture, "August Rush" ought to be a major annoyance.

Except it isn't. Co-written by Nick Castle and James V. Hart (who provided Steven Spielberg his revisionist Peter Pan movie, "Hook"), "August Rush" is an exceedingly sentimental story about a different kind of lost boy in search of parents who don't even know he exists. What keeps the movie engaging is the ferocious commitment of Irish editor-director Kirsten Sheridan, whose 2001 "Disco Pigs" is a fascinating relationship drama.

The whole point of "August Rush" is getting 11-year-old August (Freddie Highmore) in increasingly close proximity to his father, an Irish rocker named Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and mother Lyla (Keri Russell), a classical cellist. Mom and dad had a thing one night before going separate ways, leaving Louis unaware that Lyla became pregnant. Tragically, Lyla was deceived into thinking her newborn son died at birth.

Their child, August, is a gentle prodigy who hears music in everything. Certain he's not an orphan, he turns down adoption help from a well-meaning social worker (Terrence Howard) and goes searching in New York City, where he falls in with the Fagin-like Wizard (a convincingly unhinged Robin Williams), half-mad guardian of busking street urchins. While Louis and Lyla, in different cities, coincidentally follow separate destinies leading to the Big Apple, August ends up at an unquestioning Juilliard and the top spot at a prestigious Central Park concert.

"August Rush's" emotionally suspenseful and audacious climax is something only Spielberg might have attempted at one time, and for which he would have been met with cynical derision no matter how well he pulled it off. Now Sheridan offers a similarly bold but persuasive ride, and if it isn't brilliant cinema, it's honest and powerful. The forcefulness of her approach and her skill as an editor can easily catch one up in the film's swelling feeling.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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