New ‘Ap­pren­tice’ casts a goofy spell

Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN360BETS - By John De­Fore

Empty-calo­rie fam­ily fun once again whips a fea­ture­length story up out of lit­tle more than a Dis­ney-owned brand. “The Sor­cerer’s Ap­pren­tice” doesn’t achieve the level of the first “Pi­rates of the Caribbean” but is a whole lot live­lier than some of this sea­son’s other fan­tasy/ac­tion­ers. (We’re look­ing at you, Mr. Air­ben­der.)

Cast­ing Nicolas Cage as the sor­cerer in ques­tion might raise eye­brows. But this is the Jerry Bruck­heimer uni­verse, af­ter all, in which Cage serves as an all-pur­pose hero.

The ac­tor brings just a glim­mer of his youth­ful weird­ness to the role, leav­ing most of the twitch­ing and self-con­scious­ness to his young stu­dent Dave, played with fairly en­dear­ing goofi­ness by Jay Baruchel.

Dave is a nerdy out­cast who, un­be­knownst to any­body, is ac­tu­ally the sole pos­ses­sor of a power that can save the world. (Funny how many no­bod­ies out there turn out to be “The One.”) In this case, he’s a re­mote de­scen­dant of the wizard Mer­lin who has in­her­ited the abil­ity to van­quish Mor­gan Le Fay — Mer­lin’s old arch-en­emy, whose spirit has been bot­tled for mil­len­nia in a lit­tle Rus­sian nest­ing doll re­ferred to as the Grimhold.

The outer shell of that Grimhold con­tains the soul of an­other evil spell-caster, Hor­vath, who to view­ers’ good for­tune is played by Al­fred Molina. Dressed in Vic­to­rian garb and a very taste­ful coat­ing of vil­lain­ous cheese, Molina is freed from the doll at the out­set and keeps the story mov­ing for­ward past fa­mil­iar plot points — Dave’s ten­ta­tive ini­ti­a­tion into the ways of magic, his un­likely but sweet ro­mance with Becky (Teresa Palmer, who looks like a hy­brid of Naomi Watts and Kris­ten Ste­wart) and his tem­po­rary re­jec­tion of his new call­ing in fa­vor of young love.

Hor­vath and a cou­ple of hench­men chase Dave through Man­hat­tan, and the film­mak­ers get a lot of mileage out of lo­cal color, turn­ing one of the Chrysler Build­ing’s steel ea­gles into a winged get­away-car sub­sti­tute, hav­ing fun with a dragon pa­rade in Chi­na­town and (OK, this one’s a big­ger stretch than any­thing the wizards do on­screen) ask­ing us to be­lieve that Dave, an NYU grad stu­dent, has been granted use of an aban­doned sub­way turn­around sta­tion for his Tesla-coil ex­per­i­ments.

The screen­writ­ers of­fer the bare min­i­mum of wit, and some glar­ingly cor­po­rate-minded choices hit sour notes (no self-re- spect­ing stu­dent ra­dio DJ would play the surely-Dis­ney-af­fil­i­ated generic pop songs Palmer’s char­ac­ter spins here). But the ac­tion con­tains oc­ca­sional un­ex­pected re­wards, like Mon­ica Bel­lucci writhing with PG-rated sex ap­peal as her le Fay-pos­sessed char­ac­ter tries to un­leash the world’s evil spir­its in NYC’s fi­nan­cial district. (Aren’t all those bankers bad enough?)

And the movie even­tu­ally nods to its name­sake, in a run­away-mop-buck­ets scene il­lu­mi­nat­ing the dangers of friv­o­lous sor­cery.

The se­quence can’t com­pete with the Mickey Mouse orig­i­nal, of course. But it does serve as a re­minder — not nec­es­sary, but wel­come, given the self-se­ri­ous­ness af­flict­ing many of the movie’s peers — that this is all in good, goofy fun.

Rat­ing: PG for rude hu­mor, fan­tasy vi­o­lence, brief lan­guage. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 51 min­utes. The­aters: Not avail­able as of press time.

Robert Zuck­er­man DiS­ney en­ter­priSeS

Sor­cerer (Nicolas Cage) is try­ing to pass on his knowl­edge to ap­pren­tice Dave (Jay Baruchel), who is no Mickey Mouse.

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