The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
It’s not a bad concept: Nicholas Cage playing a thousand-year-old magician tutoring Jay Baruchel’s bumbling, well-intentioned, disbelieving apprentice. And for just a moment, midway through the picture, the film even delivers a rousing homage to its titular source material - replete with headstrong mops, Dukas’ orchestral music, and water sloshing everywhere. Alas, the rest of the film feels out of joint with that one exuberant moment, and in fact feels as if Disney, in attempting to capitalize on another Bruckheimer-goes-theme-park bonanza, simply greenlighted a concept that, in execution, lacks cohesion and worse: style.
The picture - unfortunately - begins with the most tired of all legends: Arthur and his own wizarding mentor, Merlin. In this version, Merlin bequeaths his knowledge on three apprentices: Balthazar (Cage), Veronica (Monica Bellucci) and Horvath (Alfred Molina) - but when both men fall for the curvy conjurer, arch-enemies are born, with Merlin backing Balthazar and the evil Morgana (Alice Krige) backing Horvath. Fast-forward about 1400 years and one bad plot, and now the two wizards are once again squaring off in midtown Manhattan, with Merlin’s prophesied offspring - awkward Physics major Dave Butler (Baruchel) in the balance. You see, he’s something called the Prime Merlinian (which sounds awfully like the prime meridian when mumbled throughout the film), and he alone has the power to save the planet, or some such derivative nonsense.
The problem is not the cast: Baruchel is always likeable, Cage holds the center of the picture well, and Molina is always good for a villain. But there’s just not a lot of well-crafted storytelling here. The plot feels like an emotional retelling of "Ghostbusters" with the CGI budget and lack of inventiveness of "Prince of Persia." Exposition is muddy, the overly zealous action sequences lack suspenseful underpinnings (largely because we haven’t been given a reason to care), and there’s not even a moment during the film when we sense the bad guys - even with a reconstituted Morgana running the show - are up to the challenge of bring about the promised, but ill-explained, Armageddon. It has something to do with a bunch of dead people destroying the world, but really: when doesn’t it?
My sense is that this Disney-Bruckheimer-Cage connection ran its course in production meetings. There’s certainly not a lot to recommend in this wannabe-box office hit, despite some heady effects; and yet, it might do very well with families who flock to anything that sounds remotely like "Pirates of the National Treasure." That’s too bad; because to all appearances the really smart people let the mophead writers run amok.