The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was for the “In Theatres” section of The Parallax Review.
by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor
When the credits rolled at the end of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I had to double-check that it was, in fact, a Jerry Bruckheimer production. It has a few of his cast regulars (Nicolas Cage, Alfred Molina). Jon Turteltaub, who is quickly becoming his go-to man for summer popcorn-movie silliness, directed it. And yes, there was Bruckheimer’s name listed as producer. With that pedigree and a story of sorcerers zapping lightning bolts at each other all over New York City, why does the film feel so restrained?
Things get off to a shaky start with a narrator spewing out reams of exposition just to set up a prologue. That prologue finds Merlin (James A. Stephens) and Morgana (Alice Krige) hurling magic at each other in the heat of battle. Eventually Merlin is killed but good sorceress, Veronica (Monica Bellucci), traps Morgana’s soul in her own body, forcing yet another good sorcerer, Balthazar (Cage), to imprison them both in a magical doll. In the fracas, evil sorcerer, Horvath (Molina), escapes. This leads to yet more narration where we learn that Balthazar spends the next 1300 years searching for the rightful heir to Merlin. Which brings us to another prologue (that’s right, two prologues) that features Balthazar meeting a ten-year-old boy named David (Jake Cherry) who he believes to be Merlin’s heir. This meeting quickly turns traumatic for the poor kid, with Balthazar revealing himself as a sorcerer and the sudden return of Horvath. In the midst of the ensuing battle, the magical doll goes missing and Balthazar and Horvath are both trapped in a magical urn.
Fast-forward ten years and we’re finally able to start the actual story. Twenty-year-old David (Jay Baruchel) is a physics nerd at NYU. He is clumsy, shy, and awkward, lacking the self-confidence to ask out Becky (Teresa Palmer), the girl he has pined over since the fourth grade. When Balthazar and Horvath are finally released from the urn, they both seek out David to track down the doll containing the imprisoned Morgana. As David learns of his destiny to become a powerful sorcerer, Horvath and Balthazar charge all over the city, hurling balls of light at each other in lifeless CGI sequences.
Despite the story that moves in fits and starts of cumbersome expositional dialogue and action sequences that range from adequate to downright boring, the film nearly succeeds because of the casting and the occasional clever idea. Baruchel is very likable and brings a welcome sense of humor to what could have been a stock nerd role. Cage is fine, but I wish he had let loose a little more. Here is a sorcerer who has spent 1300 years on a quest. It seems to me that a little more of the “crazy Nicolas Cage” would have been justified for the character. Molina brings a sinister charm to his bad guy, making him fun to watch, even if his evil plans fail to hold up to even the slightest bit of logical scrutiny. The real scene-stealer in the film is Toby Kebbell as Horvath’s assistant, Drake Stone. Drake is a sorcerer who was deprived of a proper education, so he turned himself into a megalomaniacal magician in the Criss Angel vein. Kebbell provides a merciless parody of every pretentious magician and sleight-of-hand trickster that has managed to build up his celebrity to the point of ridiculousness. The film could have used more touches like this to show how magic has been corrupted by not just evil practitioners like Horvath, but also by crass show-business types only looking to cash in an easy buck. Sadly, this angle is quickly dropped and Kebbell’s energetic performance eventually gets pushed to the background as the “save the world” plot forces its way to the head of the line.
Even with the occasional bit of creativity — David’s mixing of science and magic in the third act was a nice touch — and a game cast, this is an instantly forgettable film. It’s watchable, but it lacks the ridiculous plotting and over-the-top mayhem of Bruckheimer’s best (and worst) summer spectacles.
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