If I was 10 years old and I saw the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced kiddie action flick The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I would probably be mightily impressed. The film is another slapdash, lazy, and just plain dumb fantasy that targets prepubescent boys still convinced that grand adventures await them once they grow up. It’s also not the worst film for kids to become attached to while they’re still in that phase where they compulsively re-watch films without knowing why. Many of the best assets of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, especially its dueling leading men Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina, are so underutilized that with a little luck, viewers will seek out other ways to get the modest and family-friendly fix that this film never delivers.
There’s no logic in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice that can’t be, and mostly isn’t, made up on the spot, a concept that will likely appeal to real-life 10 year olds but irk everyone else. Then again, what else would you expect from director Jon Turteltaub, who helmed the connect-the-dots-that-we-just-made-up National Treasure movies? At the start of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a young Dave (Jake Cherry) wanders off on a field trip only to inherit his destiny as the “Prime Merlinian,” a fabled student of Merlin (James A. Stephens) who will finally defeat the evil Morgan Le Fay (Alice Kirge). Unlike Merlin, who died fighting Morgan, Morgan has been trapped for centuries in a nesting doll. Dave is however traumatized for the next 10 years after seeing Balthazar Blake (Cage), Merlin’s only surviving pupil, trapped inside a vase with Horvath (Molina), Morgan’s strongest and eldest acolyte. We’re told this by Dave (Jay Baruchel) a decade later, just as we’re told that the device that seals both Horvath and Balthazar inside an antique Chinese urn will inexplicably regurgitate them back out mere moments after the urn does just that. Apparently the film’s screenwriters made like the Lost crew and confused vague and unimaginative plot points with macguffins that are the foundation of sturdier, plot-driven narratives.
Baruchel’s Dave lives a fantasy life that one could probably only find in a corny kid’s flick. He’s a physics student who goes to NYU and is sequestered in an abandoned subway station where he works on enormous Tesla coils. When Balthazar reemerges and tells him that he’s fated for bigger and better things, he recoils—but only initially. His abrupt change of heart comes about after he’s chased through Chinatown by a giant fire-breathing dragon and learns how to channel “the electric energies in your nervous system,” as Balthazar puts it, so he can destroy an evil magician. Dave then accepts Balthazar’s offer to train under him and prepares to fight Horvath and his modern-day, David Copperfield-esque magician flunky Drake (Toby Kebbell). Dave’s precious little life is further complicated by his awkward attempts to impress Becky (Teresa Palmer), his childhood crush, now all grown up and still inexplicably interested in dating a kid with a nasal scronk of a voice that makes him sound like a weird cross between Eugene Levy and Eddie Deezen. It’s not easy being the Chosen One, I mean the Golden Child, I mean the Prime Merlinian.
While The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is pretty much The Never-Ending Story, but set around Washington Square Park and with Cage wearing a Chia-hairpiece as a wise old wizard instead of a giant flying luck dragon, it’s got it’s own modest charms. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice will give parents an excuse to show their kids Fantasia afterward thanks to an inevitable homage to the iconic duel between Mickey Mouse and a battalion of brooms. And if that doesn’t help captive adult audience members make it through Turteltaub’s loud but consistently dull flick, then the oodles of eye-catching scenes shot around the NYU campus should. The Washington Square Park scenes are especially fitting considering that their upscale and apparently gentrified urban location is the perfect setting for a fantasy film about an emancipated post-teenage life.
And finally, it gives kids their first taste of Nicolas Cage. His role as Balthazar has zero personality, but it does infrequently threaten to turn into something worthwhile, as in the scene where Balthazar is momentarily possessed by Morgan or the one where he’s driving around uptown Manhattan in an antique car while frantically trying to explain to Dave how alike physics and magic are. Hopefully, the lack of anything memorable or unique to latch onto inherent in Balthazar’s character will drive young viewers to seek out woollier and infinitely more distinct Cage performances, like his Elvis-obsessed fugitive in Wild at Heart or his deranged fascist cop in Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man. They may even watch Vampire’s Kiss and say, “Hey, that guy eating the fly is the guy waving a pickle suggestively in Washington Square Park in that Bruckheimer movie whose name I can’t remember.” And for that reason alone The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has the potential to become a thoroughly unmemorable but necessary evil.