August Rush * *

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Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Keri Russell stars in Warner Bros. Pictures' music-driven drama "August Rush."

Directed by Kirsten Sheridan. With Freddie Highmore, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Robin Williams and Terrence Howard. Distributed by Warner Bros. 1 hour, 40 mins. PG (Dickensian thematic elements, appropriate for children 8 and up). Playing at: area theaters

An Oliver Twisty urban fairy tale, August Rush is about an orphan, a musical prodigy who in his heart believes that his parents are still alive and that he can find them through his music.

As directed by Kirsten Sheridan this piece of magical realism is the movie equivalent of football's Hail Mary pass.

The plot is preposterous. Particularly the part about a kid who has never before played an instrument, but can pick up a guitar and play like Eric Clapton and belly up to a church organ and perform like Mozart.

Yet the actors, especially 11-year-old Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Finding Neverland), give it all they've got. And if you've a taste for treacle, you'll root for them and against the Faginesque street stalker named Wizard (Robin Williams), who exploits August (the stage name of Highmore's character) and other young ragamuffins.

The film is fueled by its high-octane music, composed by Mark Mancina, who blends ambient sound with gospel, classical and rock.

Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are on hand as August's progenitors, lost and lonely wandering Washington Square. Terrence Howard plays New York's most compassionate social worker.

- Carrie Rickey