Stardust 2 stars
Starring Claire Danes, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sienna Miller and Charlie Cox. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Released by Paramount Pictures. Rated PG-13; 2:08.
“Stardust” contains enough magic-driven action to rival Harry Potter, but the movie is about as magical as a Muggle.
Matthew Vaughn (whose resume includes the 2004 British gangster film “Layer Cake”) directs the playful family-friendly adventure that echoes “The Princess Bride” and “The Neverending Story.” There’s nothing wrong with recombining pieces from past hit films as long as the resulting movie bottles the spirits of those films. Unfortunately, the promising words “Easy to Assemble” don’t apply to “Stardust.”
Based on Neal Gaiman’s 1999 novel of the same name, “Stardust” has a great cast: Claire Danes as the human form of a fallen star; Robert De Niro as a ship captain and closeted cross-dresser; and Michelle Pfeiffer as a youth-obsessed witch. Each serves as friend or foe to store clerk Tristan (Charlie Cox of “Casanova”), who longs for a more exciting life beyond the walls of Wall, his rural town in pre-industrial age Britain. He finds Yvaine (Danes) unconscious at the center of a crater. Unbeknownst to Tristan, Yvaine holds a ruby necklace that several murderous princes are chasing so they can become king.
On the heels of the dazzling special effects of “Transformers,” this film’s more modestly budgeted effects are sporadically charming as second-string cheese. Yet, while the movie is essentially one long, frantically paced chase, the storytelling never coheres. The romance between Yvaine and Tristan is bland, and the action scenes are secondhand.
Maybe it has to do with timing; at the end of summer, we have blockbuster fatigue. Sure, every summer action movie is geared to 12-year-old boys or the 12-year-old boy inside prospective ticket-buyers. But next to “Spider-Man 3” and “Transformers,” “Stardust” is mere kid’s play.