Sorcerer’s Apprentice a tedious tale

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LOS ANGELES – In Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a gargoyle comes to life as a flying eagle, electric thunderbolts fly from wizardly hands, mirrors draw characters into reverse worlds and a Chinatown dragon becomes a fire-belching, building-climbing creature.
Alas, when it comes to the screenplay, magic deserts the movie entirely. A tired relic of summer-movie clichés, clearly beaten to death by far too many credited writers — and only a sorcerer would know how many “contributions” came from producers, the star and other hands — Apprentice lurches from one been-there-done-that sequence to another.
Nonetheless, this is branded entertainment, a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced, Nicolas Cage-starring event film with a beloved Magic Kingdom property referenced in the title.
That combination should work for the film’s theatrical debut, meaning families will flock to cinemas. Figure on a box office that might not replicate National Treasure grosses but nothing for a certain Disney dwarf to sneeze at either. The film opens Friday in the US.
A great deal of time goes into explaining and re-explaining the back story and the rules of the movie’s magic, but it all comes down to a battle between ancient good and evil, with the fate of the world at stake. Can any event movie these days not centre on the fate of the world?
Cage plays Balthazar Blake, a disciple of Merlin, who at about 1,400 years of age still searches the world for a prophesied young boy.
This youth will help him defeat those followers of Merlin who have turned to the dark side and mean to destroy the world with an army of dead souls. Balthazar seeks the Prime Merlinean, which Cage enunciates so poorly — well, he is 1,400 years old — that it sounds like he’s looking for a prime meridian.
This fellow turns out to be nerdy New York physics student Dave Butler (Jay Baruchel), whose brief encounter with Balthazar 10 year earlier not only gave him a slew of psychological issues but created a major setback in his pursuit of dream girl Becky Barnes (Aussie-born Teresa Palmer). Just as Dave reconnects with Becky after all these years, Balthazar, looking more like a street person than a sorcerer, again turns up in his life.
The forces of evil, personified by his arch nemesis Maxim Horvath (a sly, amusing Alfred Molina), are poised to unleash their army of doom, so no time must be wasted in training the Prime Merlinean in the powers of sorcery. But time gets wasted aplenty as Balthazar, for no apparent reason, doesn’t bother to explain what’s at stake to his young apprentice, and the Prime Merlinean’s only interest in life is getting a date with Becky.
Maxim is given an apprentice of sorts as well, foppish illusionist Drake Stone (Brit Toby Kebell), a sort of punk David Copperfield, whom Maxim treats with maximum disdain.
This tedious tale is wrapped up with chases, magic duels and other CGI magic, while comedy is meant to arise from Cage and Baruchel’s banter, which essentially denies that the fate of the world or anything important is at stake.
Perhaps it’s a hangover from the remarkably imaginative and energetic Inception, but nothing in this movie about magic, competently directed by Jon Turteltaub, feels the least bit magical.
There is one sequence that pays tribute to the film’s supposed source, the eight-minute Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence in Disney’s 1940 Fantasia, starring Mickey Mouse. But, really, every sequence feels like it was based on other movies — from The Karate Kid training sessions in magic to the morphing of bugs or infinite granules of dust into evil beings straight out of “The Mummy.”
Baruchel is nicely off-center as a hero, which gives the film a little bite. Molina always is good value, and Kebell displays some wit, but the movie doesn’t ask him to do anything with it. Alice Krige and the alluring Monica Bellucci open and close things as good and evil sorcerers, but because they cohabit the same body at times, one can’t always tell whom to root for.
The movie marks the seventh collaboration between Cage and Bruckheimer, so maybe this represents a phenomenon one can label the Seven Picture Itch: A creative partnership has turned so routine that the roles — and pictures — are all beginning to blend into one. Where once Cage could play off-center, too, notably in Con Air, here there is no spark of inventiveness. His character is all wardrobe, makeup and long, scraggly hair. What has even kept him alive for more than a thousand years? The movie is too lazy and the actor too indifferent even to suggest a reason.