FORGET iPods, mp3 players, Walkmans, radios and other portable music devices.

The soundtrack to your daily life is hidden beneath the clatter and crash of the urban sprawl: the percussive rhythm of a pneumatic drill or pedestrian footfalls, the reedy whisper of the wind, the crackle of electricity wires.

"The music is all around us. All you have to do is listen," affirms the pint-sized hero of Kirsten Sheridan's gushingly sentimental yarn, in a tone every bit as soft and dreamy as the rest of her film.

Based loosely on Oliver Twist, August Rush is the story of a boy on a quest to find his birth mother and father, who share his love for music.

Cutting back and forth between the tyke's journey of self-discovery, and events 11 years earlier when the parents fell in love and were cruelly separated, the film treats conflict, despair and yearning with all the subtlety of a crash of cymbals.

Sheridan strikes one emotional bum note after another, straining credibility as the drama builds to a crescendo at a music concert in New York's Central Park, which handily reunites all of the characters.

Unlike Dickens' eponymous orphan, there are no cries of "Please, sir, I want some more."

Rather, we plead, "Please, sirs, no more," as screenwriters Nick Castle and James V Hart slather on the sickly sentiment, revelling in the clumsiness of their flowery dialogue.

At least they can console themselves with the knowledge that a rosy future beckons, penning the verses in greetings cards.

Talented cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) and Irish singer-songwriter Louis Connolly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) fall in love one night on a Washington Square rooftop, only for her controlling father (William Sadler) to intervene.

Louis abandons music and the now-pregnant Lyla is involved in a traffic accident. Mistakenly believing she has lost her baby, she too abandons her talent.

In fact, the child is spirited away to an orphanage and grows up to be musical prodigy August Rush (Freddie Highmore).

Convinced his parents are alive, August embarks on a quest to track them down, crossing paths with cardboard characters including a caring social worker (Terrence Howard), a charismatic busker called Wizard (Robin Williams) and a chorister with the voice of an angel.

Unfolding largely as wordless montages, August Rush bears more resemblance to a series of music videos than a coherent narrative.

Highmore is far better than the film deserves, compelling us to care for his two-dimensional prodigy. Williams thankfully reins in his usual theatrics, bringing a dark edge to his rock'n'roll Fagan.

Russell and Meyers share no screen chemistry, staring dreamily into the camera and spouting platitudes like, "You never quit on your music, no matter what happens, 'cos anytime something bad happens to you, it's the only place you can escape to."

Our escape from Sheridan's film takes almost two tiresome hours.

  • NO SEX
  • Rating: Three stars