August Rush is schmaltzy and borderline insufferable even before Robin Williams appears with long sideburns, leather pants, and a cowboy hat, playing a music-world Fagin. (Or as Williams might quip, "More like Fagala! Why, Oliver Twist, you look fabulous! Who designed your outfit? Then you got the black guy with the gold chain going, 'Yo homey, these orphans be tripping, fool!'") The film is what might be called a musical urban fairytale, which is to say its characters are one-dimensional archetypes (The Singer, The Musician) pumped full of saccharine and hot air.
Simultaneously swooningly romantic and transcendently idiotic, August Rush casts Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a gaunt-faced bar-rocker who meets cute with violinist Keri Russell and shares a blissful idyll far too magical to last. Through a series of insulting contrivances, Meyers and Russell's one-night-stand leads to a baby neither parent knows exists. That bundle of joy grows up to be Freddie Highmore, a musical prodigy of such prodigious talent that he's conducting part of a luxury-car-sponsored Julliard concert before reaching his 13th birthday. Highmore stubbornly believes that his preternatural musical genius can bring his long-lost family together, even after he falls under the sway of Williams, a low-rent Maurice Starr with a coterie of musical runaways doing his bidding.
Though both films revolve around musicians, Rush is essentially the anti-Once. Where Once oozed down-to-earth authenticity, Rush leaps deliriously from one operatic emotion to another. The characters are drawn with similarly broad strokes. The film signals Rhys-Meyers' evolution from soulful rocker to corporate sellout by having him wear a suit and bark something about "10 percent" into a cell phone. For all its New Age talk about music being proof of God's existence, the sounds here are disconcertingly nondescript, from the generic bar-rock of Rhys-Meyers' band to a syrupy score that goes overboard with soaring strings. There's nothing wrong with irony-impaired movies that ask audiences to leave their cynicism at the door. But asking moviegoers to forfeit their intelligence and critical judgment in the process seems far too high a price to pay for such meager rewards.