Someone in Hollywood must have it in for Thanksgiving. How else to explain the cruelly timed release of "August Rush," a wretched confection that only the most determined will be able to count among their blessings? Partly an updating of "Oliver!" this fairy tale drama of a musical prodigy's search for his parents might temporarily put you off music, children and families altogether.
The prodigy in question is played by the talented Freddie Highmore ("Finding Neverland"), who here is confined to showcasing his dimples and staring heavenward in imbecilic rapture. Trapped in an orphanage, he's sustained only by his hopes for reuniting with his parents and his love of music. If only he could let the melodies inside him out, he wackily muses, his parents might hear it and find him. He flees to New York, where his talent is exploited by one Wizard (Robin Williams), the Fagin of the piece, who shelters a troop of pint-size buskers and re-christens his latest property August Rush.
In a long and loopy flashback, we discover that little August is the love child of two rising musical stars. Mom (Keri Russell) is a virtuoso cellist, while dad (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a name in the downtown rock scene. Their romance lasts all of eight hours, after which they are sundered. Unaccountably, neither can ever find the other, and neither knows that their child is alive. Confused? Suffice it to say that this is a world where mothers do not ask about the whereabouts of babies they just delivered and where telephone directories are apparently as yet unknown.
It's always tempting to say that handled differently, even the most tiresome movie might have been a blast. Not so for "August Rush." Still, director Kirsten Sheridan has gone out of her way to make this far-fetched stuff especially unpalatable. Everything builds to a climactic concert, where, in the last of the film's many insults to music-making, the New York Philharmonic premieres the waif's fledgling opus, a moronic string of banalities that everyone on-screen treats as a revelation.
Early on, August laments of his love of music, "Sometimes the world tries to knock it out of you." Indeed it does. Fortunately, "August Rush" is too forgettable to knock it out of you for long. (PG) 114 min. S