Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Review: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"
I know what you're thinking: A live-action feature film version of a sequence from a 70-year-old cartoon starring Mickey Mouse and a bunch of ensorcelled brooms?
With Nic Cage in glib blockbuster mode? Reteamed with "National Treasure" director Jon Turteltaub? And Jerry "boom baby" Bruckheimer producing?
It almost sounds like a practical joke. But don't forget Disney previously leveraged a kitschy theme park ride with cheesy animatronic pirates into a multi-billion-dollar franchise.
The good news is the resulting movie is anything but cynical. It's a goofy, silly thrill ride without a thought in its pretty little head.
The fun parts of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" are really, really enjoyable. The parts that aren't fun really make you wish they would get back to the good stuff. The ratio of fun to not-so-fun isn't quite high enough for me to recommend the movie, but it's a lot better than first impressions might suggest.
Cage plays Balthazar Blake, an ancient sorcerer and one of three apprentices to the great Merlin, who was undone by his arch enemy Morgana (Alice Krige) with the help of Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina), another of Merlin's pupils. Horvath went turncoat when his affections for the third apprentice, Veronica (Monica Bellucci), were rebuffed in favor of Balthazar.
In 740 A.D., Veronica trapped her soul along with Morgana's in the Grimhold, a prison inside a magic nesting doll. Over the years, Balthazar has imprisoned many of the evil Morganian magicians inside successive layers of the doll. He's spent the last millennium searching for the Prime Merlinian, the greatest sorcerer in history who will take up Merlin's dragon ring and put an end to Morgana forever.
Balthazar thinks he's found his candidate in Dave Stutler, a physics student with a severe confidence problem. Played by Jay Baruchel, Dave is a collection of tics and shrugs who can't even summon the courage to ask out his dream girl Becky (Teresa Palmer), let alone wield powerful magic in battle against evildoers.
Dave becomes a student to Balthazar, who teaches that science and magic are essentially the same thing, just focused by a sorcerer wearing a special ring. Dave's a screw-up at first, his spells fizzling or bouncing off the walls.
Turteltaub and his trio of screenwriters do include an homage to the animated sequence from "Fantasia," in which Dave zaps a bunch of mops into cleaning up his dank underground laboratory, with predictable results. You know it's coming, but I'm still glad the filmmakers included it.
Cage and Baruchel have a nice chemistry together, with Dave subtly mocking Balthazar's taste for long leather coats and pointy "old man" shoes. Dave's been told he's a loser his whole life, so when this strange guy pops out of nowhere and starts talking about him being mankind's savior, he can't quite swallow it.
Despite only a few days (apparently) of training, Dave soon turns into a half-decent sorcerer, and even gets Becky to notice him. Meanwhile, Horvath recruits his own sidekick, a Chris Angel-type magician/metrosexual who traded his meager sorcery skills for fame and fortune.
Everything builds toward a showdown with Horvath and the resurrected Morgana, who plan to raise an army of the undead, blanketing the land with evil, yada yada.
Was "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" necessary? No. The spell it casts over the audience is a silly one, but it doesn't totally fizzle.
2.5 stars out of four