REVIEW: Nicolas Cage's Magic Can't Save Sorcerer's Apprentice
To be a sorcerer, at least in the terms outlined in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, you've got to engage most of your brain, not the measly 10 percent most of us poor average Joes use. You also have to be able to harness electricity so you can mold fiery snowballs of energy with your hands and fling them at bad people. And pointy-toed leather shoes are not optional: Rubber-soled sneakers block the flow of energy. "Plus," as Nicolas Cage's sorcerer guru Balthazar tells his young student Dave (Jay Baruchel), "it helps to look classy."
It would take more than pointy-toed shoes to give The Sorcerer's Apprentice real class. The picture is fanciful in the most pedestrian way, a jumble of effects that are expensive-looking and yet, for the most part, conspicuously lacking in magic. The picture's saving grace is that much of it was shot in New York, and even though director Jon Turteltaub -- the guy behind the whoppingly successful National Treasure movies -- isn't so great on the follow-through, he does at least propose some intriguing and almost-magical ideas: For example, the way Balthazar appropriates one of the Chrysler Building gargoyles for use as his own private aircraft.
The problem is that you can see those gargoyles much better in The The's old "I Saw the Light" video, even though that, too was largely (though not all) illusion. The The Sorcerer's Apprentice gargoyles are murky-looking and half-glimpsed, an approach that would work well enough in a movie with an impressionistic, dreamy look. But The Sorcerer's Apprentice is too literal-minded in its vision; Turteltaub strives to show us realistic-looking magic, without realizing he'd be better off if he acknowledged that there's no such thing. Instead, we get human figures that emerge "magically" from swarms of cockroaches and sorceresses who dissolve into dust particles right before our eyes. It's the best CGI money can buy, and who cares?
Maybe the effects would feel more magical if the narrative structure holding them up were more stable. (The writers here include Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Matt Lopez, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard and the entire population of Belgium, though those last are uncredited.) The Sorcerer's Apprentice is set up with a backstory straight out of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Mort d'Arthur -- not. The great magician Merlin entrusts his secrets to three disciples, one of whom is a bad egg: There's Cage's Balthazar; his main squeeze the comely Veronica (Monica Bellucci, who doesn't get nearly enough screen time); and grumpy Horvath (a perpetually scowling Alfred Molina), who's in a bad mood because, among other reasons, he didn't get the girl.
Merlin's archenemy is the sorceress Morgana (Alice Krige), but after a magicians' scuffle she gets locked away in a Russian nesting-doll-type thingie called a grimhold. In fact, everybody except Balthazar gets locked away, and the dying Merlin hands him a craft-fair dragon ring and tells him to go out and find the Prime Merlinian, the only one who can save the universe from evil. Or something like that.
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