This isn’t the apprentice you’re looking for
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, fantasy, rated PG, Regal Stadium 14, 1.5 chiles
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
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,
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