Rated 3.0

A big, attractive cast in a generally raffish mood. An epic tale full of magical metamorphoses. Rambunctious star-struck mythology in a somewhat picaresque mode. With all that, the frothily entertaining Stardust should have been fuller and more satisfying than it turns out to be.

Odd casting choices and some undercooked comedy may be part of the problem, but the film’s nonchalantly irreverent approach to epic mythology remains one of its prime qualities. And casting against type—Claire Danes as the fallen-star/princess bride, Robert De Niro as a closet-case space pirate, Michelle Pfeiffer as an aged witch pursuing an endless series of magical facelifts—is among the real amusements in this otherwise half-heartedly offbeat entertainment.

Charlie Cox is appealingly goofy in the role of Tristran, the tale’s cheerfully naïve, doggedly sweet and persistent hero figure. But he is also a focal point of the film’s tendency to undercut the more barbed elements in its comic/fantastic adventures. Likewise, the ostensible daring in De Niro’s giddy performance also sinks into something more conventional and coy.

A chaste sort of ribaldry is also part of the one performance that really sustains its quirky edge—Pfeiffer’s wackily witchy arch-villain. Peter O’Toole, Ricky Gervais, Mark Strong, Kate Magowan, and Stephanie Hill all make strong but rather brief and entropic impressions. Director Matthew Vaughn gets surprisingly little out of the tale’s host of ramshackle witches and its ghostly mock-chorus of murdered princes.

I don’t know the Neil Gaiman novel on which this production is based, but it would seem to have much more to offer than Vaughn and company are able to manage.