Directed by: Jon Turteltaub
Screenplay by: Matt Lopez, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard; screen story by Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal and Matt Lopez
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Toby Kebbell, Monica Bellucci and Alice Krige
When Goethe wrote his poem about a naughty pupil, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” way back in 1797, he might have been stunned if some soothsayer had told him it would someday lead to a sports car chase through Manhattan. But alas, here we are in 2010 and that’s exactly what we’ve got.
In re-imagining the iconic sequence from “Fantasia” in which Mickey Mouse plays while the sorcerer cat is away, the six (!) writers who fashioned “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” have moved the setting from an 18th-century German castle to present-day New York and centered it on schmucky wannabe mad scientist Dave (Jay Baruchel), who, as prophesied by Merlin, is the only person who can defeat the evil Morgana (Alice Krige), who has been entombed in a Russian nesting doll along with several other baddies, and the pure Veronica (Monica Bellucci), who is master sorcerer Balthazar’s (Nicolas Cage) true love. Balathazar gives Dave a crash course in magic so they can defeat evil and save the world, and both Balty and Dave can get The Girls.
Just noting that there are six credited writers tells you how all over the place this movie is. And at the same time, for all the people who shaped the story, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. It practically follows a blueprint of adventure movies: The dork in love with a girl simply because she’s pretty. The girl kidnapped by the bad guy as leverage. The irrelevant smartass best friend. The fate of the world preserved at the very last minute.
So there’s really no suspense, and certainly no surprises. The thing is, that may actually be what makes this film successful: the audience’s need for the safety of the story. Everything is so vanilla that, no matter how many effects are thrown out there (and there are so many the plot is practically spat out in the midst of dodging — or lobbing — fireballs), there is never an iota of danger, which, of course, makes for good, old-fashioned Disney family fun but probably won’t thrill many over the age of 12. Kids, however, will likely eat it up like they did “Swiss Family Robinson” in the ’60s and “Escape to Witch Mountain” in the ’70s.
The difference is this film, compared to those earlier Disney pics, is loud, it’s silly (pushing the edges of stupid), and it hardly makes sense. It’s unclear why the souls in the nesting doll are released one by one instead of all at once (the presumption is simply because it draws out the suspense). Dave doesn’t apprentice for long considering the fate of the world hangs in the balance. And if he could do the things he’s doing in his lab (a former subway turnaround), he’d already have a Nobel Prize, yet he’s just bumbling his way through life. Characters are introduced and immediately scuttled (Dave’s BF and the Salem witch, to name two). And it’s not very creative to move the action to NYC. There’s really no reason for it. The English countryside would have made more sense, or even London; honestly, even Dallas would have been fresher.
Cage hams it up appropriately, there are all the obligatory pop songs to sell downloads, and the effects are impressive (seeing a Chinese parade dragon become a live, fire-breathing monster and Wall Street’s bronze bull sculpture charging through the streets are particularly cool) and that may be all that’s necessary to qualify as cool summer fun for sci-fi/fantasy geeks and parents. But if you think the “National Treasure” movies are too silly, just know this is even sillier — though, with inanities like the “Transformers” movies out there, you could also do far worse than this mildly amusing thrill ride.