The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Director    Jon Turteltaub
Starring    Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell, Teresa Palmer
Release    14 JUL (US) 11 AUG (UK)    Certificate PG
3 stars


18th August 2010

18th Century poetry isn't usually the biggest fountain of ideas when it comes to full-on, bold, effects-driven summer blockbusters. But when has logic stood in the way of uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer? After all, this is the man who turned a crappy theme park ride into the billion dollar Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise and made Prince Of Persia a successful... er... yeah... (*awkward pause*).

But after scrupulously studying the original poem, it's safe to say there's very little semblance, and there's certainly no mention of an eccentric Nic Cage wearing a silly wig/hat/ trenchcoat combo.

Acting as an 'expansion' to Johan Wolfgang Goethe's 1797 prose and Mickey Mouse's much-loved segment of Fantasia, Jon Turteltaub's adaptation tells the story of master sorcerer Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage). Living it up in modern-day New York, he recruits Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), an NYU physics nerd and Tesla Coil enthusiast to become his apprentice.

Balthazar learns that his arch-rival and fellow sorcery aficionado Maxim Horvath (a scene-stealing, well-dressed, Alfred Molina), plans to release an army of undead evil sorcerers from the Grimhold (think a Russian Doll crossed with a prison) and destroy New York, and then, quite probably, the world.

[gallery]Like Balthazar's hair, the back story is a knotted affair, starting off in 700AD, by way of Merlin's betrayal, and featuring back-stabbing, globe-trotting and more. Eventually, we arrive in New York. But don't worry about the ins and outs - Bruckheimer and Turteltaub certainly didn't - because it essentially boils down to a classic 'good versus evil' story that's big on action, effects and flair, yet small on depth, substance and logic. Just like Pirates Of The Caribbean: if enough clichés are thrown at it, some are likely to stick.

So, there's everything from giant spell books, to mystical rings, fire-breathing dragons, giant steel eagles and more magic than you could shake out of Derren Brown. Somehow, Turteltaub manages to keep it all in order - nothing is done for the sake of doing so, and the director sticks nicely to the story and resists swerving off course like a Merc crashing through a mirror.

Helping to keep it all grounded is our everyman hero, Jay Baruchel, who keeps a level head throughout, even when taking a plasma ball to the nuts. Baruchel has honed his unique, nasal charm that makes him a nice alternative to your Michael Ceras and Justin Longs. And after two decent leading roles, with this and She's Out Of My League, he's got that awkward Woody Allen/young Tom Hanks thing down to fine art.

However, it's his counterpart, Toby Kebbell, who's the noteworthy highlight. His snazzy, bohemian celebrity magician, Drake Stone (think Russell Brand doing magic) is Horvath's 'apprentice' and out-tricks his fellow cast members, leaving a lasting impression that easily surpasses his criminally limited screen time. But let's not forget about the wonder that is Nicolas Cage - delightfully over-the-top as the scruffy, greasy Balthazar. Taking himself less seriously these days is certainly paying off.

This is what we've come to expect from Jerry Bruckheimer of late - a well-polished family friendly fantasy that can quite easily become a money-grabbing franchise. But the underwritten subplot of Dave haplessly pursuing his long-time love interest doesn't help his cause and simply falls flat, whilst a high-speed car chase between a Ferrari and a Merc screams Die Another Day.

Dave using magic to conjure the mops and brooms to clean and tidy his lab is a loving nod of appreciation to Fantasia. Whether Walt Disney would approve of this treatment of his material is another question entirely.

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