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'Sorcerer's Apprentice' low on magic

Article Published: Jul. 22, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Sorcerer's Apprentice' low on magic

Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina star in 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice.'

For a movie about magic, Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice is like a hat without a rabbit - no magic, but hey, nice hat.

Since it's based on a 10-minute animated short starring Mickey Mouse, that's no surprise.
Since it's a summer blockbuster starring Nicolas Cage, again, no surprise.

And since it's produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, well... it doesn't feature the slow-mo explosion walk, so that's surprising.

But to use a Douglas Adams-ism, it's mostly harmless. The Sorcerer's Apprentice is your standard, family-friendly summer fare, high on flashiness, low on substance - familiar territory for director Jon Turteltaub, known for popcorn pleasers like National Treasure and Nicolas Cage.

And Cage (Kick-Ass) pleases as Balthazar, a powerful sorcerer trained by the legendary Merlin (James A. Stephens, Sherlock Holmes). Tasked with seeking Merlin's heir throughout the centuries, he finally finds his query in modern day New York City in young Dave (Jay Baruchel, Knocked Up).

Dave, however, is oblivious to his inherent potential. As a physics student at New York University, he's more concerned about scoring a date with childhood crush Becky (Teresa Palmer, The Grudge 2).

That is until rival sorcerer Horvath (Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2) pays him a visit. Horvath is out to destroy Merlin's line, while setting free an ethereally imprisoned Morgana le Fay (Alice Krige, Star Trek: First Contact) to rain doom upon the planet.

As Merlin's heir, Dave possesses the power to defeat Morgana, but only Balthazar can help him reach his true potential. Like so, Balthazar accepts Dave as his apprentice, and computer-generated adventure ensues, including an homage to the original short, dancing broomsticks and all.

The plot's holier than yesterday's Swiss and as predictable as a one-sided die, but Apprentice isn't aiming for depth, instead simple summer entertainment. And in doing so, it foregoes spells for formula.

You can't help wondering what Apprentice could have been in better hands, those old-school Disney hands (not the literal liver-spotted variety) that dealt out heartwarming, live-action features like Old Yeller, Mary Poppins, et al. - entertaining, but with character growth, story (rather than just plot) and Dick Van Dyke.

Under those bygone standards, Dave's tale, though still somewhat predictable, would be one of personal growth and self-discovery, rather than just a means to an end. In this case, there's simply no magic.

As Dave, Baruchel plays up his usual shtick - the nasally, self-deprecating nobody who, depending on the film, goes from zero to hero. Fortunately, it's still funny. Like with Arrested Development's Michael Cera, we laugh at that consistent personality's reaction to inconsistent situations.

Since the film's more about Apprentice than Sorcerer, Balthazar's role is surprisingly more minimal than one would think, and, while it's hardly memorable, Cage has fun, bringing to his character that slightly deranged glee he's mastered so well.

It's Molina, though, who steals the show. As Horvath, he's equal parts suave, cruel, sophisticated and cunning, cementing himself not only as a competent villain, but as a flexible actor who works well with whatever he's dealt.

But The Sorcerer's Apprentice is naught but a card trick - some visual spectacle, but nothing more than a sleight of hand.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice, rated PG for fantasy action violence, some mild rude humor and brief language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone and the Parkway Theatre in West Jefferson.

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