The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Directed by Jon Turtletaub
Eight decades into its run as the world’s most popular purveyor of mainstream family entertainment, Disney still can’t shake a fe unfortunate narrative tendencies, many of which are on display in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a fantasy-adventure flick that qualifies as being somewhat above-average as far as its usually completely dismal live-action fare goes, but provides little to nothing we haven’t seen before or better.
The movie’s greatest assets are obvious from the get-go: an unwillingness to slow down the breakneck pacing for even a moment, and its reliance on the natural charms of its two leads, who help to carry the movie through its remarkably familiar proceedings. Jay Baruchel, the former Apatow player (Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, Knocked Up) suddenly made ubiquitous, stars as Dave, an awkward, nebbish young man with low self-confidence who is told by a wisecracking, several-centuries old sorcerer (Nicolas Cage) that he is a direct descendant of Merlin and will be instrumental in defeating another, more sinister sorcerer (Alfred Molina, who between this thankless role and Prince of Persia clearly needs a stern chat with his agent). Meanwhile, Dave is inexplicably besotted with a bland, blonde college DJ (Teresa Palmer) who supposedly traffics in bands you’ve “never heard of” (actually mid-tempo balladry fit for any Clear Channel outlet). That’s about the weight of it.
Thankfully, Sorcerer never does itself the disservice of taking itself too seriously, except for the brief stretches when it indulges its least welcome subplot, a romantic rivalry between Molina and Cage over their long-dormant sorceress colleague (Monica Bellucci, drawing the shortest straw of all). The most entertainign scenes involve Cage and Baruchel just riffing off of each other, especially in Baruchel’s “training” scenes. (A sequence that draws from the Fantasia short that inspired the film, on the other hand, feels very much shoehorned in.) The actors have a fun rapport, albeit one that might be more satisfyingly fleshed out in a less family-friendly enterprise.
The ADD-inflected pacing helps to keep the relatively nonsensical plot moving, though not fast enough for us not to notice how perfunctory a role Palmer has in the big showdown, reflecting the House of Mouse’s usual M.O. of making its female characters utilitarian love interests only. Also, a sequence involving a resurrected Abigail Williams (of the Salem Witch Trials) chafes, as it makes the youngster out to be a genuine witch. Kids won’t notice, of course, but it’s a typically brazen attempt to re-appropriate history that should offend anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the subject. That ugliness aside, Apprentice is pleasant, diverting family fare that makes no attempt to transcend its familiar trappings.