Movie Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Fun but forgettable kids movie

Hundreds of years ago, bad wizards were stuffed into a Russian doll (The Grimhold) by a good wizard named Balthazar, one of Merlin’s three apprentices. The love of his life and fellow apprentice, (Monica Bellucci) was trapped inside as well, while the third apprentice, Horvath (Alfred Molina), went rogue. Back in the modern world, it’s up to the Last Merlinian, unwitting Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel) to save the day when Horvath reappears and starts peeling the Russian doll’s heads off, releasing evil spirits one by one.

Still here? It’s a Jerry Bruckheimer film, so there’s plenty of action weaved into the magic, which certainly needs it – powering suspended animation of objects is all well and good, but the lack of depth to the magic (compared to a certain other young boy who found out about his special powers) and the world it resides in is painfully clear. So to compensate, it’s fantasy Bruckheimer style – plenty of stuff getting smashed up alongside the sorcery.

As a child’s movie, the storyline, genuinely engaging characters, particularly Baruchel’s loveable nerd, and that age-old fantastical idea that magic really exists make this film very appealing. There is also lovely nod to nostalgia for adults with out-of control mops making a mockery of their master in a scene lifted straight out of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment of the 1940 Disney classic Fantasia.

Sadly, there is precious little left of the genius that once was Cage, the man whose electric insanity made instant classics of Wild at Heart and Raising Arizona. His propensity to parody himself over and over and over again, has soured audiences on his performances, which is a waste. Here, he is merely competent in a role that’s hardly a stretch. The old Cage would have drawn magic from the page – today’s Cage doesn’t seem to care, doing rote quirky intensity and his once-delightful trademark oddness with a palpable lack of feeling.

Still, Cage even at half mast is more watchable than most and Alfred Molina gives great villain with plumy gusto, an eccentric wildcard of an evil sorcerer supported by the soon-to-be-a-star Toby Kebbell, a sorcerer turned spurious motivational speaker with more than a pinch of the sublime spikiness that got him noticed in Control. The film hangs on the narrow shoulders of Jay Baruchel, whose comedy support in films like tropic Thunder and Knocked Up have always hinted at untapped promise. And he shoulders it well, never veering too far into the manic-nerd territory that makes the eventual getting of the girl unfathomable.

Both fantasy and children’s films are brimful of classics and unforgettable characters that stand the test of time and this film has none of those things. But it’s not the worst way to spend a rainy Sunday either.