By Michael Ferraro | August 12, 2007

Filmmaker Matthew Vaughn got his start producing a pair of Guy Ritchie flicks (“Lock, Stock…” and “Snatch”) before finally trying out directing himself (“Layer Cake”). It was clear that this transition appeared relatively easy for him and even caught the attention of the executives at Fox, who then offered him the change to direct the third installment of the “X-Men” franchise. Sadly, he walked away from the production for various reasons, giving Brett Ratner the opportunity to replace him and ultimately destroy the dreams of millions of fanboys all across the globe (an event he recently apologized for at the San Diego Comic-Con). His newest directorial effort, “Stardust” (based on the novel by Neil Gaiman), sheds some light on what might have been had he stayed aboard that project.

Tristran (Charlie Cox) is a young shop worker who has been trying to win the heart of Victoria (Sienna Miller), a local beauty with a predilection for bigger things, for quite some time. One fateful evening, a star falls in the forbidden land beyond the rocky wall surrounding his city. Victoria promises she’ll take Tristran’s hand in marriage if he collects the fallen star and brings it back to her in a week. Unbeknownst to him, the fallen star actually appears in human form (Claire Danes), and her presence is detected by a group of witches (lead by Michelle Pfeiffer) who want her heart to preserve their youth.

Probably the most important element that helps this fairytale work as well as it does is the caliber of acting from everyone involved. Danes is able to produce quite a convincing British accent and handles the fantasy atmosphere perfectly. Even Robert De Niro, who plays Captain Shakespeare, a “colorful” pirate assisting Tristran on his quest, fits in here brilliantly and practically steals every scene he is in. This is not only his best comedic role but it’s also his best performance since “Ronin” (which may or may not be saying much).

“Stardust” is the best live-action fairytale fantasy in recent memory. There is a great deal of humor peppered all throughout the entire film that, unlike that other animated fairytale franchise, isn’t captured through pop culture references. Vaughn also did a great job capturing Neil Gaiman’s style and tone on screen. Those not familiar with the source material (or Gaiman in general) are sure to marvel at the imaginative visuals and top-notch special effects displayed here.

This movie is probably the only thing releasing this weekend (between “Rush Hour 3” and “Daddy Day Camp”) that delivers on the action front, laughs, and some great visual splendor. The only real problem with this film is the running time. It runs just over 2 hours and there are apparent areas that could have benefited from some cuts here and there, especially the opening act, but it’s not something that’s too terribly distracting. But if only it were 20 minutes shorter.

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