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Movie Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (PG)

A Little Bit of Magic

By Roxana Hadadi

It’s somewhat known that Nicolas Cage is a ham, an over-actor who seems to pop up everywhere, from films about comic books (“Ghost Rider”) to big-budget Disney blockbusters (the hugely successful “National Treasure” series). He stresses every syllable when he talks, his every movement seems to be almost laboriously pained – and that somewhat cognizant style of bombast is exactly what makes his latest film, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” so enjoyable.

Inspired by the same-named portion of Disney’s 1940 animated film “Fantasia” (which itself took a few cues from Goethe’s 1797 poem “Der Zauberlehrling”), “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” puts a spin on that story, in which Mickey Mouse yearned to mimic his master’s deft magical hand. When his master went to sleep, Mickey slipped on his hat and tried to enchant brooms and mops to clean their home for him – but when the magic got out of hand, only Mickey’s master could save him from his mistake. Here, the setup is kind of the same: Cage plays Balthazar Blake, a 1,500-year-old sorcerer who has been searching for years for the Prime Merlinian, a modern-day descendent of the one and only Merlin who will possess his power when armed with his dragon ring.

And it seems Balthazar finds that chosen one in Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), a nasally, geeky physics nerd who doesn’t fit that well into society, but not because he hides some kind of superb magical ability – he’s just socially awkward. For example, he’s pined over his childhood crush, Becky (Teresa Palmer), for 10 years, but can barely string any sentences together when he sees her on a Manhattan street. Nevertheless, Balthazar thinks he’s found who he’s looking for, unkempt hair and all.

Of course, Dave doesn’t believe him at first – until it becomes apparent that if he doesn’t help Balthazar, the whole world could suffer at the hands of Horvath (Alfred Molina). A well-dressed, cane-carrying sorcerer who can’t wait to bring the world to its knees, Horvath has recently been released from the Grimhold, kind of like a magical carrying device in which Balthazar had trapped him and some other baddies, including evil witch Morgana (Alice Krige). Thousands of years ago, Morgana had attempted to perform a spell to bring all bad sorcerers back from the dead, creating an evil army that would cause humankind to suffer – and if Horvath can claim Merlin’s dragon ring, he can finally free her and help her complete that quest. That means bad news for everybody.

So it becomes a race against time, and through Manhattan, as Balthazar struggles to train Dave in the specifics of sorcery – which is really a combination of science and magic, he says. Meanwhile, Horvath, along with recruited bad guy Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell), a former sorcerer’s apprentice who settled into life as a famous magician when his mentor disappeared, attempt to track down the good guys and steal the ring. And while the film never has a specifically astounding or amazing moment, it certainly packs in some solid special effects that help the film jump off the screen, without any 3-D.

There’s a huge steel eagle that comes to life off the side of a building and saves Dave at Balthazar’s behest; growling, snarling wolves get turned into puppies with one wave of Balthazar’s ring-wearing hand; various people believably morph into each other; and a dragon puppet at a Chinese New Year parade becomes horrifyingly – and hugely – real. With its extra-long fangs and super-angry demeanor, that one might be a little too much for younger kids (especially because a family sitting next to me left during that scene), as is other parts where some corpses regenerate, Morgana teeters toward murder and Horvath seemingly kills a child. For the most part, however, the film isn’t too dark, with little cursing or sexual innuendo – just a few kisses.

Nevertheless, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” would rely too heavily on flashy effects if it weren’t for Cage’s performance; he actually came up with the idea for the flick (which, in one of its best moments, pays homage to its animated predecessor). His stodgy, super-serious shtick is perfect for the role of an ultra-old sorcerer butting heads with an upstart kid who doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude of what’s at hand – especially when he delivers lines like “I’m not your mentor, I’m your master” and the two spar over Balthazar’s “old man shoes” – and when more of his history is revealed, his unyielding determination makes even more sense.

Overall, though, Cage’s always-ready-to-roll-his-eyes personality (which audiences also saw some of in this spring’s “Kick-Ass”) gels agreeably with Baruchel’s stammering skepticism and Molina’s oily charm to make a flick that should keep kids happy, if not supremely thrilled. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” won’t be a summer blockbuster, but for the time being, it proves that Cage may be smarter than we give him credit for. Or at least more self-aware.


Roxana Hadadi last reviewed “The Last Airbender.”

Also in theaters is the animated “Despicable Me.”


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