NOTE: This movie review was written by CineSnob.net film critic apprentice Cody Villafana, who won the Film Critic Apprentice-for-a-Day contest last week.
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina
Directed by: John Turteltaub (“National Treasure: Book of Secrets”)
Written by: Lawrence Konner (“Flicka”), Mark Rosenthal (“Flicka”), Matt Lopez (“Bedtime Stories”)
In an attempt to tap into the well-established “Harry Potter” market, Disney has unearthed a 200-year-old story most recently manifested in their 1940 classic film “Fantasia” and created a film that will likely make people pine for the cartoon’s timeless simplicity. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and company have taken the famous mopping scene from “Fantasia” and expanded and re-imagined the story to create a film that taps into the world of magic and sorcery. Although it provides some entertainment through special effects, ”The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is a mostly unbalanced film that fails to conjure up anything substantial in the way of story, plot, or memorable moments.
“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” opens with a quick trip back into history recapping the story of Merlin and his three apprentices. One of Merlin’s apprentices, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina) turns against Merlin and joins forces with the evil sorceress Morgana before eventually being captured in a nesting doll-type object called a grimhold. As Merlin is dying, he gives another one of his apprentices, Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) a ring with a dragon on it that will one day determine who will succeed Merlin.
The audience then skips to the year 2000, where young Dave Stutler (played in kid form by Dave Cherry) stumbles into what appears to be an antique store where he finds the enigmatic Balthazar. Balthazar quickly notices something about Dave that prompts him to grab the dragon ring, which perfectly grips and attaches to Dave’s finger. While wandering around the store, Dave accidentally releases the evil Horvath, leading to an extended battle which leaves Horvath and Balthazar trapped inside a vase. Dave throws away the grimhold and is met by his teacher, who finds only Dave and an empty antique store.
In a final jump to present-day New York City, the audience finds Dave (Jay Baruchel), the now 20-year-old self-proclaimed physics nerd, offering help to Becky (Teresa Palmer), his elementary school crush, in their physics class. Meanwhile, Horvath and Balthazar reappear from the vase, now just an artifact in an old couple’s home. Horvath immediately visits Dave in search of the grimhold. Balthazar is able to appear to save Dave in the nick of time, and recruits Dave to help him find the grimhold. Dave and Balthazar then engage in a series of battles with Horvath, while Balthazar uses every opportunity to train Dave to be the sorcerer he is destined to become – the only one who can defeat Morgana, should she be released.
The film suffers from uninspiring performances from most of its leads. Jay Baruchel fails to display the charm he showed in “She’s Out of My League” and turns in an unconvincing performance as a newly post-teenage physics nerd. Nicolas Cage sleepwalks through his role as the wise, but slightly neurotic Balthazar and adds virtually nothing but a name to plaster on a movie poster to help bring in bigger box office numbers. Alfred Molina gives the best performance of the leads in his role as the evil Horvath. It is a performance that is evil enough to make him a convincing villain, however, fans of Molina’s will surely recognize this is not his best work.
One of the major downfalls of this film is its over-reliance on special effects. While the first couple of battles provide amusing effects as the Sorcerers throw plasma balls and move objects with the wave of a hand, the concept begins to repeat itself and wear thin. The entire movie presents a repeating cat and mouse game between Horvath and the duo of Balthazar and Dave and by the third time we see characters hurling transforming objects at one another, the effects have lost their luster.
The large majority of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice takes place in a physics lab and focuses on Balthazar’s efforts to train Dave and turn him into a true sorcerer. This leaves almost no room to grow for any of the relationships beyond that of Dave and Balthazar. The relationship between Dave and Becky isn’t given enough time to develop, lacks believability and fails to evoke any sort of emotional response from the viewer.
Perhaps the most criminal of cinematic offenses comes in the movie’s final act, which is the end battle that the entire film leads towards. In a this final sequence Dave suddenly does things that he wasn’t capable of five minutes prior, other characters perform acts that are either not completely shown on screen or are not explained. The sequence becomes so convoluted that it reiterates the banality and lack of substance of the film and once again leaves the viewer’s enjoyment at the mercy of the special effects.
Serving as a Sunday afternoon time passer at best, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” isn’t entertaining enough to cover up its plethora of plot holes, lack of character development and dull story line.