Sunday, August 12, 2007

REVIEW: Stardust (2007)

It's based on a book by popular fantasist Neil Gaiman, but "Stardust" could've come straight from a pre-fab outlet in a crate marked "Instant Cult Classic." It's a loopy, silly, fairytale mini-epic spilling over with ideas that are finally too big for the movie that holds them, executed with an abundance of dry Python-esque satire that seems at least in part intended to make it's core of ooey-gooey "dear diary" romanticism a bit easier to take for audiences who aren't wistful young ladies from the Drama Club. Resembling the offspring of "Somewhere in Time" and "Buckaroo Banzai," it's an agreeable, enjoyably hard-to-categorize thing, and the parts that work will earn it devotees who'll love it fiercely and turn the ignoring of the parts that don't work into a kind of mental kung-fu.

As is the case with most Instant Cult Classics, the "plot" is elaborate and complicated, all the better to reward multiple viewings and detail-hunting: Young romantic Tristan, aiming to prove his love for the vain Victoria, sets off from their tiny village of Wall (the setting seems to be some point in 19th-Century England) to collect a recently-fallen star. This involves hopping over the stone wall seperating, er.. Wall from what the locals believe (but don't seem all that amazed with) is an alternate-universe fairytale kingdom called Stormhold, who's Lear-ish dying King has opted to settle the thus-far bloody succession quarrel among his sons by sending the remaining boys on a quest for a magical object - an act which is responsible for knocking the star from the sky in the first place. Stars, it turns out, have a human shape: This one is named Yvaine, looks like Claire Danes and has something of a sour disposition. Tristan and the wicked Prince aren't the only ones seeking her, either: A trio of aging Witches are aiming to restore their youth and powers by devouring her heart, and have dispatched their leader Lamia (Michelle Pfieffer) to fetch her.

So, what we're ultimately presented with a point-A to point-B chase movie, set in an amusing little world of magic spells, fairytale staples and even the occasional unicorn - and if the prospect of seeing a live-action unicorn is already making you swoon, this is the movie for you. I can also add, treading lightly so as to avoid spoilers, that it offers up a bounty of grand sights and well-observed goofs at the expense of genre cliches: There's some terrifically gruesome fun to be had with the absurdity of the three Witches' entrail-based divinations, and it borrows an ever-welcome bit from "American Werewolf" involving the ever-expanding Greek Chorus of the ghosts of the fueding Princes. Best of all are a truly original final battle scene and the grand centerpiece: Robert DeNiro as the sky-pirate Captain Shakespeare, easily the best comedy turn for the actor in a long time.

For all that goodwill, unfortunately, no film that's asking it's audience to both laugh at the silliness of it's own genre and still get swept up in it's "I Wuv you thiiiiiiiiiis much!"-level romantic dizziness can fully overcome it's more irksome issues: There are some distractingly cheesy special effects, an inappropriately bombastic score and an embarassingly-telegraphed surprise twist. Director Matthew Vaughn, as far away from his breakthrough territory in Ritchie-esque British gangster films as possible, puts in a worthy effort and manages to come up with a movie that's a damn good time in spite of it's own failings. When all is said and done, "Stardust" is too much fun to have much quarrell with.



joe said...

Until today I had forgotten about this movie. It sounds pretty good and I'll probably see it sometime soon. I did hear that it bombed it's first weekend, and that probably has more to do with it's complete lack of tv spots than anything else. Hell, Pan's Labyrinth had a tv spot every 30 minutes which is probably half the reason it did so well.

Striker Z said...

Dude, I refuse to acknowledge that as a 'surprist twist' - you're completely aware of it for the entire movie.