by KYW’s Bill Wine
National Treasure was no such thing. And either is this.
For a movie about magic, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, from the same primary collaborators, couldn’t be less magical.
The premise, as explained to us at the top by a scrolled truckload of inconsequential exposition: dueling wizards have been waging a battle since King Arthur’s era and will now duke it out in contemporary New York City. In the balance (yawn) is no less than (yawn!) the fate of the world (zzzzz…)
We may not remember that the backbone of the story comes from a poem by Goethe, but we are familiar with the centerpiece “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment in 1940’s Fantasia, in which title character Mickey Mouse tries to imitate his master’s magical abilities and gets in deep water — literally.
This Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a live-action fantasy that tucks the one scene we anticipate, as described above, into the middle of its we-couldn’t-care-less narrative.
Jay Baruchel plays Dave Stutler, an NYU physics student. Nicolas Cage is master sorcerer Balthazar Blake, a disciple of Merlin. As was his rival and nemesis, Maxim Horvath, played by Alfred Molina.
Blake recruits Dave, perceiving in him an innate talent for wizardry. Why, he might even turn out to be the… (drum roll, please!) Prime Merlinian.
It’s at this point that we start contemplating that nifty-looking EXIT sign to the right of the screen.
Dave thinks all of this is crazy, of course, but it sure might help him out in his attempt to impress the young woman he’s enamored of, played by Teresa Palmer.
The CGI special effects are the tail that wags the dog here, and it’s a pup with very little get-up-and-go.
The combat sequences — and there are far too many of them anyway — have no emotional impact whatsoever.
Couple that with a plot that only a six-year-old (or someone of any age whose day isn’t complete until the hurling of plasma bolts has been witnessed) could take any interest in and you don’t need a sorcerer’s help to see the problem.
Director Jon Turteltaub (While You Were Sleeping, Phenomenon, Instinct), producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and star Cage have already collaborated on two supernatural action-adventure thrillers with National Treasure in 2004 and National Treasure: Book of Secrets in 2007.
Both were awful. So is this.
The aggressively uninspired, coincidence-laden script, cobbled together by five different screenwriters, offers up allegedly magical occurrences with such frequency and in such a mundane manner that there’s no sense of reality for them to play off.
Cage has chosen (and is one of the executive producers of, no less) yet another project that forces him to put his sense of humor in his back pocket and take the material much too seriously. And even Molina, always the best of technical actors, can’t do much with his material.
Baruchel brings more humor and charm to his role that it deserves, but it’s an uphill battle for him too.
Even as a kidflick, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is an old-news snooze.
So we’ll conjure 1½ stars out of 4 for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a heaping helping of mirthless, bombastic, special effects-driven drivel.
Wave a magic wand over this clunker about sorcerer parity and it’s still just a parody of itself.