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The Sorcerer's Apprentice: only moderately enchanting

2 out of 4 stars


The Sorcerer's Apprentice

  • Directed by Jon Turteltaub
  • Screenplay by Matt Lopez, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard
  • Starring Jay Baruchel, Nicolas Cage, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell and Teresa Palmer
  • Classification: PG

With Harry Potter's next wand-waving adventure landing in the fall, it's up to Montreal actor Jay Baruchel to deliver some youth-oriented summer movie magic in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, a fantasy-thriller-comedy that moderately enchants thanks to a non-stop barrage of special-effects pyrotechnics and the onscreen alchemy of four fine character actors. But not much else.

Ponderously silly opening "backstory" lore informs us that Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage), an apprentice of Merlin long ago, has been combing the world for centuries in search of "the prime Merlinean" (try saying that mouthful 10 times fast), who will inherit the great sorcerer's power and is the only one who can save the world (yawn) should Morgana Le Fay (Alice Maud Krige) escape from the Grimhold - a nest-of-dolls "prison" with the evil sorceress in the centre and various Morganians layered around her.

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The chosen one is Manhattan physics major Dave Stutler (Baruchel), a nerd so brainy that his university gives him a nifty subterranean lab (an abandoned subway turnaround) where he can be alone with his Tesla coils. Balthazar (Cage in a shaggier version of the motivated oddballs he frequently plays) finds Dave using the latest in geolocation magic. But so does his nemesis, Horvath (Alfred Molina), a former Merlin disciple turned Morganian, who believes Dave has the Grimhold. The object is soon geolocated in Chinatown, a spectacular setting for a good-versus-evil showdown after which Dave, very reluctantly, agrees to become Balthazar's apprentice to harness his budding gifts.

Meanwhile, Horvath finds his own apprentice, Russell Brand-style illusionist Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell), who is more interested in the fame, girls and lavish lifestyle his tricks have brought him. With the evil duo closing in, Balthazar rushes to complete Dave's training; the only trouble is Dave is more interested in the fetching Becky Barnes (Teresa Palmer). Love versus duty, magic versus science, good versus evil - the classic conflicts are touched on here, but their potential is not satisfyingly explored. Instead, we get a standard-issue car chase through Times Square.

What started in 1797 as a 14-stanza poem ( Der Zauberlehrling) by Goethe, one of the more important writers and thinkers in Western culture, is now the latest slice of branded entertainment from Jerry Bruckheimer, one of the more successful producers of blockbuster films and TV series in the Western world today. Connecting these two cultural dots are the 1897 Goethe-inspired symphonic piece The Sorcerer's Apprentice, by French composer Paul Dukas, and the famous animated short (based on the Goethe poem, set to Dukas's music and starring Mickey Mouse) from the 1940 Disney classic Fantasia.

The film from the National Treasure brain trust of Bruckheimer, Cage and director Jon Turteltaub pays homage to its legacy in a scene in which Dave clean ups his underground lab/sorcery-training ring before Becky arrives. It's fun to watch brooms and mops causing havoc and water flooding the lab as Dave emerges from freshening up and gets all Mickey Mouse with an axe.

The lively verbal sparring between the good and evil sorcerer-apprentice pairs sustains the movie, but, with a predictable plot, by-the-numbers action-movie jolts and no real sense of wonder, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is really just a pumpkin.

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