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Friday, August 10, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Stars shine in overloaded "Stardust"

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes

"Stardust," with Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Sienna Miller, Ricky Gervais, Jason Flemyng, Rupert Everett, Peter O'Toole, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, from a screenplay by Jane Goldman and Vaughn, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman.

129 minutes. Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and some risqué humor.

Complete with a corset-wearing pirate, a witch whose beauty is only skin deep, a cranky star and a dying king, "Stardust" is a wildly crowded and sporadically entertaining fantasy adventure. Based on Neil Gaiman's best-selling fantasy novel, it's reminiscent of "The Princess Bride" (if a bit less funny) in its fairy-tale whimsy, rambling storyline and varied roster of characters.

"Stardust" takes place in the extra-picturesque Victorian village of Wall, where a young man named Tristan (Charlie Cox) is in love with the prettiest — and, apparently, snottiest — girl in the village, Victoria (Sienna Miller). To win her heart, he promises to take a journey to the magical land across Wall's wall, Stormhold, to capture a fallen star. Turns out, the star is also a pretty girl: Yvaine (Claire Danes), who's understandably peeved about Tristan's quest. (Stars, apparently, get as cranky as the rest of us when they have to walk a long way.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Stormhold, a hideous witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) plots to secure eternal youth; a king (Peter O'Toole) on his deathbed sparks a competition among his sons for his throne; the pirate Captain Shakespeare (Robert De Niro) dances a cancan; another witch (Melanie Hill) keeps a beautiful young woman (Kate Magowan) captive; and, yes, a unicorn turns up. It's all very busy indeed, and — depending on your tolerance for fantasy conventions — often a little silly. And it's a change of direction for director Matthew Vaughn, whose previous film, "Layer Cake," showed him perfectly at home in the gritty realm of crime drama. Here, his hand is less sure: "Stardust" suffers from uneven pacing and some cheesy-looking special effects.

But the fine cast keeps things watchable. Pfeiffer, in her second villainous turn this summer (following her delicious Velma Von Tussle in "Hairspray"), happily gobbles the scenery, shoots green vapor through her finger and cackles with wicked glee. Once transformed into a beauty, she unfurls her lines like silk, reveling in her own glamorous evilness. (A side note: Expect to see numerous articles praising Pfeiffer for her courage in allowing herself to be uglified on screen. Why is it that female actors are so often lauded for their "bravery" when they appear on film looking less than attractive? When male actors do it, it's just called acting.)

De Niro, in a truly bizarre role, prances about like a happy puppy, and Rupert Everett brings his posh-as-expensive-chocolate voice to the role of Secondus, the king's most ruthlessly ambitious son. Cox finds little that's distinctive in his role — he's mostly the person who reacts to what everyone else is doing — but Danes, once she gets past her character's crankiness, is charming. Though she's been making movies for a long time, Danes still has a genuine freshness and vulnerability on screen; late in the film, she makes a speech of love to Tristan that's quite touching. Unfortunately, Tristan's recently been transformed into a rodent. Such are the perils of fairy tales.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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