The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Film review by: Witney Seibold

 

Big, dumb, and more fun than it has a right to be, John Turteltaub‘s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is a special effects extravaganza that manages, for a few fleeting moments, to ever-so-slightly stick its head above the surface its homogenized Disney blandness, and almost become the joyous wizard romp that it so clearly aims to be. Most of the film feels like a rehash of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, or Turteltaub’s own “National Treasure” diptych, and is only saved by some gleefully absurd conceits, and the insane power of its admittedly strong cast, with our insane uncle, Nicolas Cage frothing at the center.

The story… An undying wizard named Balthazar (Cage) has been scouring the world for a kid called (prepare to groan) The Prime Merlinian; that is, a child who is the reincarnated soul of Merlin. Balthazar used to hang out with Merlin, you see, and he and his two co-workers Veronica (Monica Bellucci) and Hovarth (Alfred Molina) once teamed up to imprison the evil sorceress Morgana (Alice Krige), who was bend on resurrecting the world’s dead and taking over the world. Hovarth, however, betrayed the other two, and now Veronica and Morgana are trapped in the same magical prison together. Only the Prime Merlinian can destroy her.

Yeah, we’re deep in the trenches of mythological hokum. Any plot description that features the phrase “…is destined to…” or “only… can destroy…”, you can be comfortable that we’re moving into that stone-headed fantasy world of obtuse improvised “canon,” and cool special effects.

Eventually we meet Dave (Jay Baruchel) who is, of course, the unknowing Prime Merlinian, but is more happy to be tinkering with his Tesla coil, and trying to land the girl of his dreams (Teresa Palmer, who sounds like one of Bob’s victims, if you’ll allow me an obscure reference). Baruchel is one of the main reasons that “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is so watchable; he has nailed that gawky everyman quality needed to ground the fantastical nonsense flying around around him. He eventually starts hurling fireballs himself, with the aid of Balthazar, but seems exasperated and confused by all the myth that’s thrown at him.

 

It also helps a great deal that Nicolas Cage plays the wizardly teacher, and taps into that insane acting style that Cage has made a career on. It’s not a protracted insanity like in “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans,” but is still kooky enough to keep the otherwise bland proceedings off balance.

Another conceit I liked: the film bothers to bring magic into a scientific context. Both kooky wizards and nerdy physics students are essentially trying to do the same thing: manipulate energy.

The film’s wekanesses are strongest, I’m sad to report, in the character of Becky, the love interest. Palmer is a fine actress, and is very pretty, in that bland sort of way. The film insists she’s the coolest chick around, but doesn’t seem to have a lot of character; she makes no empowered decisions for herself, and her aid in the film’s climax seems like a calculation from the screenwriter; like her character didn’t have enough to do. Becky has a radio show on WNYU, which is fertile ground for exploring her ultra-cool musical tastes (is she gonna play an old X record? How about an early REM track?), but the film only has her play that bland, non-descript pop music you find on Radio Disney. During these scenes of falsely enforced coolness, does the film’s existence as a product begin to show through.

Otherwise, I found “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” to be just entertaining enough. Thanks to Harry Potter, childrens’ fantasy is still flying high, and the multitudinous copycats are inevitable. Our best wish is that we get some good ones while the trend is still high, and I think “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” will do fine.

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Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 9:57 am  Leave a Comment  

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