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click to enlarge art35_film_stardust_100.jpg

Millions have already come under the spell of "Stardust," so it's a little late to write a review for them. But there are countless people who've resisted its charms, which isn't surprising considering its less-than-charming previews and a release date that makes the movie seem like an end-of-summer dump.

"Stardust" is everything you'd expect -- fantastic, silly and romantic to a fault — and one thing you wouldn't expect. It is fantastic, silly and romantic without trying to force you into really believing in any of it. It knows it's being cheesy on all fronts, and it knows you know, too. If you can watch it in the right mood, it's enjoyable.

You know the incantation: Leather-voiced English thespian (Ian McKellen) narrates a tale of a hero, Tristan (Charlie Cox), on a quest to find a star who turns out to be a hottie (Claire Danes), who's pursued by multiple bad guys, including an evil prince (Mark Strong) and an evil witch (Michelle Pfeiffer), who's a hottie half the time. The hero begins the tale as a clumsy, tongue-tied shop boy, growing up, filling out and cultivating a heroic plume of soap-star hair as the movie goes along.

The premise is simple, and it's to the credit of director Matthew Vaughn, who co-wrote the script based on Neil Gaiman's book, that he kept the movie that way. One can frightfully imagine talking animals and inanimate objects of all sorts lurking in such a production, but Vaughn has firmly resisted the urge to be cute. Instead he's inserted a myriad assortment of well-drawn and amusing oddballs, including Robert De Niro as a terrifically effete pirate.

The limited amount of computer-animated effects in "Stardust" must be called magic; there are such wonders here, but they are inserted with grace and not allowed to get out of hand. Among the few complaints is the romance between Cox and Danes, which lacks the sass the rest of the movie strives for. Some sparring between these two would have made "Stardust" truly magical. (PG-13) 125 min. S



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