STARRING: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Monica Bellucci, Toby Kebbell

2010, 111 Minutes, Directed by:
Jon Turteltaub

What is it about these large budget mainstream movies that encourage Nicolas Cage to stay on a leash?

In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, a movie minimally inspired by the Mickey Mouse segment in Fantasia (which was inspired by Paul Dukas' musical piece which was in turn inspired by Goethe's poem), Cage plays Balthazar, a great sorcerer who was one of the three, original pupils of Merlin until the great wizard's defeat at the spells of Morgana le Fay. This is the type of role Cage could ham up in his sleep, and yet, only a few flashes of a mild injection of his craziness turn up: they are the startled cries of one suddenly awoken from a nap . . .

At least the Cage of The Sorcerer's Apprentice is making an attempt at oddball when his character clearly is one instead of coasting on the sense of actor's entitlement that has accompanied his roles in other popular movies ("Ok, I read my lines, so where's the check?"). The movie doesn't rise and fall exclusively on his energy, but when Cage is on, he certainly does complement the throwaway story.

That story is summed up as roughly as possible in the prologue, a catch-up to the drama of the world of real magicians, written in six-eight time and played at presto tempo. Merlin was good. Morgana was bad. Balthazar, Horvath (Alfred Molina), and Victoria (Monica Bellucci in what amounts to a cameo) were once Merlin's apprentices. Horvath turned to the dark side, and Victoria sacrificed her body to trap Morgana's spirit within it.

Centuries have passed, and Horvath and other Morganians are trapped the prison of a matryoshka doll. Balthazar has waited all this time for the prime Merlinian, a direct descendant of Merlin who can defeat the already defeated Morgana. That sorcerer is Dave (Jay Baruchel), who stumbled into Balthazar's magic shop as a pre-teen and now has multiple complexes as a result of releasing Horvath back into the world, watching Balthazar and his nemesis duel, seeing them disappear into an urn, and, of course, having his schoolmates see him with wet pants. He tries to tell them it's just water, but the only option is to transfer to a new school and wait ten years for Balthazar and Horvath to return to complete and give him a reason for sorcery training.

"Stuck in that unfortunate movie limbo of being too innocuous for its own good . . ."

The movie has a somewhat novel concept for the existence of magic.

While a normal person only uses ten percent of the brain, a sorcerer's uses the whole. That ability allows a sorcerer to manipulate the molecules of matter. Make them move faster, and they ignite. Where the energy for plasma balls created between a sorcerer's palms comes from is left open to ignore. "Is it science or magic," Dave, the physics nerd with a Tesla coil in his old-subway-stop laboratory, asks his new teacher. "Both," Balthazar replies, and if one considers alchemy a legitimate science and an astrologer a groundbreaking researcher, then, sure the explanation works.

There are a few other moments of inspiration scattered throughout, but they only brighten the dull, familiar proceedings for an instant. A car chase through the streets of New York has Horvath turning his vehicle into a taxi to blend in with the surroundings, and Balthazar morphs his old Rolls-Royce into a sports car to keep up when his enemy does the same. Apart of these chameleonic touches and a brief adventure inside a mirror, the sequence is just your average car chase with director Jon Turteltaub hitting the usual beats.

Cage is occasionally wicked as Balthazar, Baruchel takes a vocal cue from Jerry Lewis every so often, and Molina is solidly malevolent in a typical sort of way. Toby Kebbell plays a Morganian who has sold out his sorcery to become a famous magician, and it's a character that's funny in his introduction but never quite achieves a comic end (More than another ally of Horvath who's given a name straight from The Crucible and then vanishes). Teresa Palmer is Dave's love interest, a girl he had a crush on in grade school and now stalks ("Not in the creepy way," he sort of assures her), and while the role is extraneous, Palmer makes it so in a particularly bland way.

Even the homage to the animated short that serves as the movie's namesake, in which Dave must clean up the lab before his study date, is dreary. The Sorcerer's Apprentice is stuck in that unfortunate movie limbo of being too innocuous for its own good . . .

- Mark Dujsik



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