As its poor opening weekend earnings show, Stardust is a movie that can't quite decide who its audience is. It's too childlike for the hordes of fan-boys and -girls that make any film associated with a comic book or J.R.R. Tolkien a hit, and too adult for the children who would normally be its target demographic.
Unlike The Princess Bride to which it is being compared, Stardust (rated PG-13 for risqué humor, violence, and adult situations) can't be comfortably enjoyed by the whole family. At least not if you mind your kids seeing a gay, cross-dressing pirate (Robert DeNiro) and a fair maiden who wakes up with her hero sans ball gown.
The DeNiro character is particularly annoying given that there is no such person in the original novel. It is simply a tired, Hollywood addition that temporarily rips us out of fantasyland and back to the politically correct mundane. Beyond these troubling elements, however, Stardust is an airy, whimsical delight.
When Tristan (Charlie Cox) sees a star fall from the sky, he vows to cross the wall surrounding his small English village and bring it back as a love-token for his shallow would-be bride (Sienna Miller). But once he arrives at the crash site, he finds a beautiful, shimmering girl (Claire Danes) instead of a meteor. He also discovers that a far more dangerous terrain lies beyond the town's boundary.
From there, the fairy tale is fairly predictable-a wicked witch (a magnificent Michelle Pfeiffer) wants to kill the star and steal her youth, as does a power-mad evil prince. But the way it comes together is not. Thanks to a host of wonderfully funny supporting players, Stardust never bores us getting to the happy ending we know is coming. This is one time special effects don't serve as a stand-in for good acting, but rather enhance it, truly transporting us into a romantic magical realm.
So while Stardust might not be a good choice for a family outing, it's not a bad choice for date night.