This isn’t the ap­pren­tice you’re look­ing for

The Sor­cerer’s Ap­pren­tice, fan­tasy, rated PG, Re­gal Sta­dium 14, 1.5 chiles

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In 1797, Jo­hann Wolf­gang von Goethe wrote the poem “Der Zauber­lehrling” (The Sor­cerer’s Ap­pren­tice). As he set quill to paper, could he have imag­ined the bal­lad would some day be beloved for the op­er­atic an­tics of a car­toon mouse? Or that his work would later in­spire a movie in which two sor­cer­ers race through Times Square, trans­form­ing their ve­hi­cles from sports cars to garbage trucks as they blast away at each other?

Aside from the ti­tle, it’s un­likely that any­body would make the con­nec­tion. Yes, there is one scene in which the sor­cerer’s ap­pren­tice (named Dave, and played by Jay Baruchel) an­i­mates mops and brooms to clean up a mess and finds that the sit­u­a­tion quickly es­ca­lates out of his con­trol — just as we saw in the orig­i­nal poem and in Fan­ta­sia. But this scene takes place two-thirds of the way into this mod­ern adap­ta­tion, buried in a D-level Star Wars-or Harry Pot­ter-style tale about a Cho­sen One with spe­cial pow­ers who must save the world be­fore the au­di­ence falls asleep.

The story be­gins with Dave as a 10-year-old (played by Jake Cherry). On a class trip to New York City, he wan­ders into an old magic shop, where the script wastes no time in get­ting the

The Sor­cerer’s Ap­pren­tice, store’s owner, Balt­hazar (Nicolas Cage), to declare him some kind of suc­ces­sor to Mer­lin. Balt­hazar should know. He was once Mer­lin’s ap­pren­tice. Now, Dave will be Balt­hazar’s ap­pren­tice — but not un­til Balt­hazar spends 10 years trapped in an urn as part of some age-old bat­tle with an evil sor­cerer named Hor­vath (Al­fred Molina).

For­tu­nately, Balt­hazar is re­leased just in time for Dave to have grown old enough that we get a sexy young love in­ter­est for him. She is played by Teresa Palmer, who is sexy and young and a bet­ter ac­tress than the role re­quires. They’re both stu­dents at New York Uni­ver­sity. He’s into physics. She’s a mu­sic nerd who re­ally the depth and power of im­pres­sively bad, Dis­ney­fied pop mu­sic. Dave’s courtship of her is rou­tinely bro­ken up by Balt­hazar’s ef­forts to get Dave to save the world from Mor­gan le Fay (Alice Krige), a sor­cer­ess who wants to kill ev­ery­one in the world and rule a planet of an­i­mated corpses. I know, right? Can’t a guy just be left alone?

Poor Dave just wants his life to be nor­mal. Why wouldn’t he? His nor­mal life in­volves ad­vanced stud­ies at NYU, dat­ing a girl who is 20 times hot­ter than he is, and craft­ing won­drous elec­tri­cal ex­per­i­ments in a cav­ernous un­der­ground Man­hat­tan lab­o­ra­tory that he has all to him­self. I’d like my life to be “nor­mal” like that, too. Ac­tu­ally, now that I think of it — I’d still rather be a sor­cerer. How can we be ex­pected to care about a char­ac­ter who doesn’t want to be a sor­cerer? At least Harry Pot­ter im­me­di­ately un­der­stood that magic was flip­pin’ cool, and he had Volde­mort try­ing to kill him the whole time.

And this is the ma­jor prob­lem with the movie: Dave is a dweeb. Baruchel is a fine comic ac­tor in sup­port­ing roles, like when he played one of Seth Ro­gen’s doo­fus bud­dies in

He’s de­bat­able as a comic lead and cer­tainly not an ac­tion lead. He’s too squeaky-voiced, too manic, and too, well, Even as Dave grows more pow­er­ful and con­fi­dent, he some­how re­mains a dweeb, which feels off.

But you prob­a­bly don’t want to know about Dave. It’s Nicolas Cage up on the posters, and Balt­hazar is the star char­ac­ter, if not the pro­tag­o­nist. Cage is hav­ing quite the year, play­ing a bad cop like a free-jazz mu­si­cian in

Up.

pa­thetic.

feels

Knocked

Bad Lieu­tenant: Port of Call New Or­leans,

and then

con­tin­ued from Page 64 riff­ing on Adam West’s Bat­man in Un­for­tu­nately, his turn in

is sim­i­lar Kick-Ass. The Sor­cerer’s Ap­pren­tice

Na­tional Trea­sure to his work in the se­ries (those films, like this one, were di­rected by Jon Turteltaub) — it’s ap­pro­pri­ately ec­cen­tric, but di­aled down. This is the kind of movie Cage does so that he can con­tinue to do smaller, weirder work. That said, his hair is glo­ri­ous here — though more Van Halen than von Goethe — and his cos­tumes are of­ten imag­i­na­tive.

For an ac­tion com­edy, the hu­mor is in­ex­cus­ably atro­cious. There are mul­ti­ple mo­ments where char­ac­ters act out of char­ac­ter and then shout, “kid­ding!” A dog passes gas in one scene, pees on the floor in an­other, and does al­most noth­ing else the rest of the time. One scene spoofs the “these aren’t the droids you’re look­ing for” bit from An­other char­ac­ter then shouts, “These aren’t the droids you’re look­ing for!” — to make sure you get it. And if you didn’t re­al­ize it was a joke, the char­ac­ter laughs, prompt­ing you to laugh as well. I passed on the in­vi­ta­tion.

Star Wars. How can we be ex­pected to care about a char­ac­ter who doesn’t want to be a sor­cerer?

As for the ac­tion part of the equa­tion, there is some­thing to be said for the spe­cial ef­fects. Ma­gi­cian du­els — in which two spar­ring part­ners are limited only by imag­i­na­tion — can be pretty nifty, and Cage and Molina are two gifted ac­tors who are ripe for such com­bat. The vis­ual-and sound-ef­fects teams turn in some big, bold work for these bat­tles. There just isn’t much movie around these scenes. With such dis­re­gard for pac­ing a story and es­tab­lish­ing sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ters, I can’t help but won­der if Hollywood’s use of com­puter ef­fects is a bit like the sor­cerer’s ap­pren­tice’s use of magic — film­mak­ers can now bring to life any­thing they want, but re­liance on these ef­fects has got­ten so out of con­trol that it cre­ates more prob­lems than it solves.

Have a ball: Nicolas Cage and Al­fred Molina

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