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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

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Chick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-yellow-smChick-O-Meter-grey-smChick-O-Meter-grey-sm Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

You might think you know all about this one thanks to some selective advertising, but you’d be wrong. This Sorcerer’s Apprentice comes from the imagination of five guys who aim for an inventive reimagining of the Merlin saga with a small streak of formula here and there to modernize it. One of the stars, Nicholas Cage, is also an executive producer.

Minutely based on the animated Fantasia sequence, the one where mops, brooms and water go berserk after Mickey Mouse dons a sorcerer’s hat and capriciously uses his powers for mundane chores, the pointy blue hat is replaced by a silver dragon ring that will only fit the Prime Merlinian, a being destined to inherit all of the legendary wizard Merlin’s vast powers.

It seems that once upon a time, 740 A.D. to be exact, the great and legendary Merlin (James A. Stephens) had three faithful apprentices who helped him guard against the evil magic of Morgana La Fey (Alice Krige). Merlin’s powerful posse contained apprentices Balthazar (Nicholas Cage), Veronica (Monica Bellucci) and Maxim, (Alfred Molina) the latter falling for the wickedly seductive Morgana and crossing over into the dark side.

In a fierce battle, Morgana, Veronica, and Maxim are trapped by layers into a decorative nesting doll called a grimhold (the Russians call them matryushka) while Balthazar roams the earth for more than a millennium awaiting the arrival of the child who will be the Prime Merlinian, the only being able to vanquish the evil Morgana and her plan to raise all of the dead wizards and destroy the world. As if oil spills and war couldn’t do the job fast enough.

Balthazar has a ring, which, like Cinderella’s shoe, will only fit its rightful owner, the Prime Merlinian, whom he finally meets in the year 2000 as a boy. Dave (Jake Cherry) is on a class field trip when he finds an antique store, meets Balthazar, successfully tries on the ring, accidentally frees Maxim and starts a wizard battle that traps both Balthazar and Maxim in a large vase for a decade.

Flash forward to 2010 and now Dave (Jay Baruchel) is a nerdy NYU student, brilliant in physics but lacking in physical companionship. He pines for blonde co-ed Becky (Teresa Palmer) whom he’s had a crush on for the last ten years. His roommate Bennett (Omar Benson Miller) pushes him to be less timid but Dave is more at home in his underground lab than anywhere else.

Meanwhile, Balthazar and Maxim burst out of their confines and immediately clash with each other over the whereabouts of Dave and the grimhold. This leads to a subsequent teaming up of Balthazar and Dave as his apprentice, while Maxim enlists the help of celebrity magician Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell) who has made his wizardly powers pay off in the physical world.

CGI special effects dominate most of the film, with a Chinatown sequence being the most effective. Damage is spectacular, liability nonexistent. This is Disney, after all. Dave attempts to marry magic and physics via Tesla coils and electrical properties; Balthazar wants Veronica, Maxim wants Morgana, Morgana wants power, and Dave wants Becky. In each male character’s case there’s a female behind his actions, good or bad, like an Eve for every Adam.

An idiotic side plot has Dave wasting part of his apprenticeship pursuing Becky with moronic dialogue and snore-inducing dullness. These scenes fall flat in an otherwise fast-moving narrative. So what, acquiring superpowers makes you suddenly irresistible after you’ve been ignored for a decade? This makes Dave seem desperate and Becky seem shallow, so it’s hard to root for them.

I know, I know. Disney always has to have a princess, but the Becky thing brakes all of the ongoing action into a snail’s pace full of time-wasting, wide-eyed disbelief and misunderstanding.

Nicholas Cage, at home in a leather duster and long hair, tries to tone down his usual Nicholas Cage-ness enough to let a little magic out. Jay Baruchel brings the nerdy physics brain in pointy wizard shoes to life. Alfred Molina is especially sinister here, putting his sharp nose and heavy black eyebrows to good use.

Female wizards Alice Krige and Monica Bellucci have miniscule parts, a flash in the beginning and a bit in the action-packed showdown that is inevitable. Omar Benson Miller and Teresa Palmer’s characters seem to be afterthoughts, thrown in almost as props.

Director Jon Turtletaub (National Treasure) unleashes effects at a rapid pace, sailing through mirrors, electrical energy, plasma balls and centuries of contained, distilled and concentrated animosity. Well, the male characters anyway.

The screenplay was written by Matt Lopez (Race to Witch Mountain) Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard (Prince of Persia) from a story by Lopez, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal (Mona Lisa Smile). Unfortunately, all of that testosterone serves to render the female characters as either cute, sexy, seductive, evil, or a combination of those traits. Brains for these gals are as absent as cotton candy sales during a monsoon.

It’s an entertaining film visually, hampered by a silly love story that should have been contained in its own grimhold, a kind of Merlin Wall that would have stopped the proliferation of misguided romantic clichés if only for a little while. I’d settle for 10 years, with an option to renew.

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