Friday, July 16, 2010

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (Jon Turteltaub, 2010)

In THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) has searched for hundreds of years to find the rightful successor to his master Merlin. Balthazar was one of three apprentices to his legendary mentor. When one of them, his friend Horvath (Alfred Molina), joins forces with an evil sorceress and kills Merlin, Balthazar is entrusted with the responsibility of identifying the Prime Merlinian, who will be the proper inheritor of the Arthurian wizard’s powers.

In the year 2000 Balthazar finally stumbles upon him in the form of ten-year-old Dave, but the kid’s training is stalled when he accidentally releases Horvath from the Grimhold, a Russian nesting doll that imprisons evil sorcerers. Due to circumstances too convoluted to go into, flash forward ten years when Dave (Jay Baruchel) is now a physics major at NYU. Balthazar returns and begins training his protege to keep evil magicians at bay.

Whether intentional or not, THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE plays like Disney’s stalled attempt to launch a stripped down Harry Potter-like franchise. While the special effects are suitably impressive and Cage brings the occasional flourish of oddball humor to the affair, the film as a whole lacks a strong idea of what it should be. In trying to be everything to everybody, it amounts to a fitfully entertaining nothing.

In the best sequence, THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE calls back to the FANTASIA cartoon with Mickey Mouse that the film draws its name from. Dave uses magic to set the mops into action in the workshop with disastrous results. It’s one of the rare spots when effects, humor, and action work in concert. As for other highlights, a Chinese dragon puppet made flesh and blood and a Chrysler Building eagle turned into an unconventional mode of transportation are a couple of the visual effects technicians’ more inspired creations.

Nevertheless, a little bit of CGI sizzle isn’t enough to hinge a film on these days, especially when it’s so commonplace in big studio movies. As the 20-year-old brainiac Dave, Baruchel can be a nice foil for Cage, but he’s never given enough to work with to allow his twitchy nature from solely defining the character. That awkwardness served Baruchel well in the comedy SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE, but here the trait is too prominent. In theory Dave’s training would be front and center, but it often takes a back seat, especially to a halfhearted romantic subplot about a reunion he has with a grade school crush played by Teresa Palmer.

If magic relies on misdirection, then THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE knows well enough to be distracting enough to divert attention for awhile. If only there were a satisfying payoff to the feature-long trick.

Grade: C

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