No surprises in predictable 'August Rush'

Joe Sicari

There isn’t one thing in "August Rush" that will surprise the audience. Most likely, viewers will be three steps ahead of the story. Yet its capable cast, led by the talented young Highmore, and music make it entertaining viewing. The story tries to show the connection between music and musicians. When it sticks to that, it is actually pretty strong; it’s the way coincidences need to happen in order for the main story to play out that stretches the believability factor almost to the breaking point.

Eleven years ago, on the roof overlooking Washington Square, N.Y., an Irish guitarist/lead singer named Louis (Rhys Meyers) meets a young beautiful cellist, Lyla (Russell). A night of romance ends abruptly when the two awake the next morning. They promise to meet, but situations occur, and Lyla’s over-protective father forbids it. Louis is crushed; Lyla is as well. Later, pregnant Lyla gets into an accident and her father tells her the baby has died. This causes her to give up her career and, instead, focus on teaching. Meanwhile, Louis has also abandoned his career and has taken up business. Neither realizes that their son is alive.

Switch to today: Evan (Highmore) runs away from his orphanage to New York. The Wizard (Williams), street musician, quickly realizes Evan’s gift music. He has a bunch of runaways playing music around the city for money ("Oliver Twist"?). He gives Evan a new name, August Rush, and it seems like only moments until Rush finds himself at the Juilliard School of Music. Just as quickly, he composes a symphony. The symphony is to be played at Central Park where Lyla just happens to be scheduled to make a return to the stage. Meanwhile, Louis is also in New York to reunite with his band. There is more to the story, which includes a social worker (Howard) who wants to help and a pastor (Williamson) who gets Rush to Juilliard.

The screenplay, by Nick Castle and James V. Hart, is awfully tough to swallow – some would say it’s contrived – and to a large extent that’s true. The amount of coincidences that have to happen seems endless. It’s the films attempt at showing how a gifted child can create the music that keeps the viewer interested; that, and the cast, who do a better-than-expected job pulling off the material.

Both Russell and Meyers put forth plenty of effort to bring sincerity to their characters. The audience will believe how much one night, one chance meeting, can change a person’s life. With each role, Highmore proves what a major talent he is. Even so young, he has the ability to lift weak material. Williams has the worst written role in the film, but, to his credit, does the best he can. In smaller roles, both Howard (how many film has this guy been in this year?) and Williamson bring class to characters that are merely plot accessories.

"August Rush" has its pleasures, with a strong cast and a fine music score compensating for a weak story.

August Rush – A Warner Bros. release. Directed by Kirsten Sheridan. Starring Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Terrence Howard, Mykelti Williamson and Robin Williams. Rated PG.