The problem with a "fairy tale for all ages" is that fairy tales are not for all ages, and for every easily impressed child enthralled by the latest intersection of Bettelheim and Campbell, there's an obliging adult chaperone duly noting the location of the theater's emergency exits. Keeping every demographic amused by fantasy isn't an impossible task--The Princess Bride accomplished this beautifully by weaving subtle threads of adult irony and intrigue through the broader weft of the airtight plot--but Stardust unfortunately takes the opposite tack by forcing a callow and sloppy narrative into false maturity with a sprinkling of naughty content.
Not many fairy tales begin with their hero's unplanned conception, but that's how literally lucky bastard Tristan (Charlie Cox) makes his entrance into the small village of Wall. Seems a few decades ago his father Dunstan (Nathaniel Parker) dared to cross the stone barricade ringing an enchanted zone, only to meet an imprisoned wench (Kate Magowan) who, nine months later, deposited their offspring in a basket on the wall's other side. The now-adult Tristan is inspired by the comely Victoria (Sienna Miller) to retrieve a fallen star that's crash-landed inside the zone's boundaries, only to discover that not only does evil sorceress Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer) have designs on the same prize, but that the dislodged stellar body is not a drab old meteorite but the very sentient and ethereal Yvaine (Claire Danes), who's anxious to return to her place in the sky. She'd been knocked out of the firmament by a necklace, but to explain any further would mean dragging Peter O'Toole into the mess of celebrity cameos zipping around in pursuit of a hodgepodge of shifting goals--It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World retold by the Brothers Grimm.
While director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) hasn't neglected the visual splendor necessary to flesh out an epic quest set in a whimsical realm, the celestial special effects embarrassingly shuffle the movie's scenes into two categories--sensational or shabby. The one bright spot is an absolute tonic of a performance by Robert De Niro as the bombastic captain of an airborne ship. His appearance at the halfway point injects the proceedings with a spark of winking good humor that almost pushes the whole movie out of the ditch, but even his presence plus the outstanding visuals plus the sound and fury of all the A-listers flurrying to and fro isn't enough to erase the story's intrinsic thinness. Stardust is marginally amusing while it's happening and completely forgettable once it's over, its small measure of magnitude disappearing like real starlight once you've left the dark of the theater.