The prologue of Stardust begins in a village called Wall, named after the structure separating it from a supernatural parallel universe on the other side. The time is the mid-19th century, when border security is altogether more lax than it would be in the modern world, and represented solely by an elderly guardian (David Kelly) apparently on round-the-clock duty.

Stardust **

Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Starring Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Ricky Gervais, Peter O'Toole, Rupert Everett, Sienna Miller, Jason Flemyng, Henry Cavill, Kate Magowan, Mark Strong, David Kelly PG cert, gen release, 127 min

A Wall resident effortlessly dodges past him and enters the other world. In a bustling market he buys a snowdrop from a witch's slave. The cost is a kiss, she tells him, but they go further, and 18 years later, the product of their union, Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox), turns up in Wall. There he falls for a demanding local (Sienna Miller) who sends him back over the wall to fetch a falling star.

The star has taken on the human form of Yvaine (Claire Danes) whose gift of eternal life is coveted by a wicked witch (Michelle Pfeiffer) who wants to eat her heart out so that she will be forever young, and by a family of princes competing to succeed their dying father (Peter O'Toole) as king.

The storyline originated in Neil Gaiman's four-part DC Comics series before he turned it into a novel. On his second movie as a director (after Layer Cake), Matthew Vaughn applies a tongue-in-cheek approach - and a battery of hi-tech special effects - to this romantic fantasy-adventure.

Vaughn's genre role models appear to be Time Bandits and The Princess Bride, with a nod and a wink towards the Harry Potter series, but his film falls short in terms of wit and imagination. Stardust is diverting in its whimsical way, but burdened with nonsequiturs, and it ought to have been subjected to more rigorous pruning in the editing suite.

The clutter includes a couple of jarring self-indulgent cameos performed with pantomime subtlety: Ricky Gervais rehashing his stock routine as a shady trader, Ferdy the Fence, and Robert de Niro camping it up as the cross-dressing, Can Can-dancing Captain Shakespeare.

In his first leading role, Cox is passably bland as the young hero, but the movie's serious casting error is Danes, who is charmless and looks ill at ease as the fallen star. It takes Pfeiffer to give the movie the kiss of life.