For the past 11 years--his whole life--Evan (Freddie Highmore) has been an orphan but that’s about to change along with his name. Evan has "always heard the music " even when it’s not playing and one day he decides to follow it in hopes of finding the parents he’s never met and whose musical genes he has inherited. It takes him out of the orphanage he has always despised and into Manhattan where 11 years prior he was conceived. As we learn via flashback his parents both young musicians at the time were an unlikely match: Lyla (Keri Russell) was a shy dainty cellist while Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) was a brash Irish rocker. Their mutual love for music ultimately brought them together on a rooftop for just one night of which Evan turned out to be the product. But when Evan is born prematurely Lyla’s father (William Sadler) does what he thinks is right for her career and gives the newborn up for adoption without her knowledge. Lyla and Louis have since reluctantly given up music but Evan is about to pick up where they left off in New York City. While there he is discovered by a seemingly well-intentioned "manager" named Wizard (Robin Williams) who renames the prodigy August Rush. Before long Wizard is booking gigs in hopes of capitalizing financially while August hopes to use his music for a slightly nobler purpose: tracking down and reuniting his parents. Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate) is as much a child-actor prodigy as August Rush is a musician; he’s truly in a class of his own. It’s not just that the British youngster seamlessly ditches his accent to play an American—better and more undetectably than many of his elders are able to do might I add—or that he’s able to pull off the musical aspect (he reportedly mastered the guitar and conducting for further authenticity) but rather that he advances the never-dormant story every step of the way. And it’s not every day that a teenager can handle being the centerpiece of a big Hollywood movie (see The Seeker et al.) but Highmore makes it a non-issue. Russell and Rhys Meyers meanwhile add a classy touch of adult to the story with their opposites-attract arc. Russell borders on too pristine and precious at times and Rhys Meyers is written as the stereotype of Irishmen but they make you believe in the commonality of music as a matchmaker. Williams however misfires with his portrayal of the somewhat ambiguous Wizard. It is unclear whether he is a reincarnated pirate or just a well-traveled New Yorker and Williams plays him with that lack of clarity but kids will laugh nonetheless when the actor gets loud and hyper. Terrence Howard as a concerned social worker and Mykelti Williamson as a pastor turn in solid supporting performances while young Jamia Simone Nash may incite standing ovations with her singing. The concept of August Rush is most certainly aimed towards those too young to discern between realism and fantasy but at least director Kirsten Sheridan (Jim’s daughter) doesn’t patronize kid viewers the way most preteen movies do. While the young director doesn’t exactly steer clear of clichés and sap she makes a concerted effort to place the film’s music and sheer energy at the forefront. Sheridan also does the best with what she’s given which is a highly predictable occasionally preachy script—with a tendency to give Highmore cringe-worthy voiceovers (i.e. “Open yourself up to the music around you”)—written by Nick Castle (Hook which August Rush often resembles) James V. Hart (The Last Mimzy) and Paul Castro. Just as impressive as the film’s omnipresent music—both “found” (basketball dribbles etc.) and orchestrated—is the look of a somewhat magical Manhattan that is as fun for kids as it is mildly scary. All in all Sheridan’s first big movie is a different if slightly uneven kind of kids flick but not so different that the target audience won’t dance along.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A man rushes into buying the perfect house in the suburbs so he can raise his family. Only he soon discovers he’s overpaid for a death trap that will require big bucks to renovate. Yes Are We Done Yet? is another remake of Cary Grant’s 1948 classic comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. While the prospect of Ice Cube stuck in a house of horrors seems like an appropriate way to trump the road trip from hell that was Are We There Yet? this sequel isn’t an upgrade on Tom Hanks’ 1986 Blandings redo The Money Pit. But that won’t matter to the kids who laughed at the slow and painful destruction of Ice Cube’s beloved SUV. Now they’ll squeal with delight as Ice Cube—finally married to Nia Long who’s pregnant with his twin babies—tries to replace the leaky roof he’s put over the heads of his ungrateful stepchildren (Aleisha Allen and Philip Bolden). “I can fix that ” Ice Cube says after breaking something. Too bad no one took a crack at fixing a script that fails to puts a modern-day spin on the suburban angst Cary Grant endured 60 years ago. As a founding member of 1980s gangsta rap group N.W.A. Ice Cube made his bones scaring the living daylight out of white middle-class Americans. Now he’s entertaining their grandkids with innocuous family-friendly farces that once were Eddie Murphy’s bread and butter. You can’t blame Ice Cube for building upon his comedy franchises Barbershop and Friday especially as he’s failed in his bid to be an action hero. But unlike The Pacifier which Vin Diesel employed to poke fun at his tough-guy image this kid-conscious franchise makes Ice Cube look softer than a life-size teddy bear. Sure he’s man enough to more of a beating than he did the first time out as Nick Persons but the scowling Ice Cube looks as uncomfortable bearing the brunt of these Home Alone-style humiliations as he does working with children and animals. Not so with John C. McGinley the film’s lone source of amusement. He seems thrilled to be out of his doctor Scrubs and hamming it up as a happy-go-lucky man of many hats including realtor construction manager and midwife. Speaking of giving birth Nia Long doesn’t have anything to do other than to exude the glow of an expectant mother. Unfortunately Long’s onscreen kids Aleisha Allen and Philip Bolden don’t have much to do either. They were the driving force behind Ice Cube’s road rage in Are We There Yet? Now they barely get up to any mischief. And the better behaved they are the less enjoyable Are We Done Yet? is. Are We Done Yet? began life as a Blandings remake before Ice Cube et al. retooled it as this plain and predictable sequel. So that may explain why Allen and Bolden are no longer the cause of Ice Cube’s physical abuse. That’s a shame as the antagonistic relationship they once shared made Are We There Yet? somewhat tolerable. Director Steve Carr clearly has no interest in exploring Ice Cube’s new role as a stepfather not even if it results in more concussions. Then again Carr’s there to merely serve as a one-man wrecking crew. He dutifully tears down Ice Cube’s house but he doesn’t do it with much panache or originality. You just know Ice Cube will hit rock bottom when he tries to fall asleep while rain pours through his roofless house. At least Carr—who also directed such mediocre sequels as Dr. Dolittle 2 and Ice Cube’s Next Friday—has the good sense not to bring back the Tracy Morgan-voiced Satchel Paige bobblehead doll from Are We There Yet? And he does wrap up the proceedings with a welcome nod to the chaos Ice Cube endured on that long drive. Still by the time Ice Cube steps foot in the dream house he’s built you’re hoping that the trials and tribulations of his battered and bruised Nick Persons are indeed over and done with.