You know you’re in trouble when a film opens with a flashback only to immediately follow it up with…another flashback. Such is the case in the new Nicolas Cage film The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and it creates the odd sensation that we’re watching a sequel to a movie never filmed. Cage plays Balthazar, a sorcerer locked in a century’s old battle with Horvath (Alfred Molina). In the film’s first flashback we see Balthazar imprison Horvath in a vase in order to wait for a more powerful sorcerer to vanquish him. Unfortunately for both Balthazar and Horvath that wait is going to be about a 1,300 years. (For parents watching the film, it might feel even longer.) When Balthazar finally stumbles upon his sorcerer prodigy he turns out to be, as is often the case, a fumblingly inept kid named Dave (well, it’s typically the case that they’re inept not the whole being named “Dave” part).
Dave (Jay Baruchel) is, of course, unenthusiastic at the notion of becoming a sorcerer. After all, who would want to have magic powers, am I right? I get that the “reluctant hero” is something of an archetype in these sorts of stories but come on…what’s the downside of magic powers? Especially when you’ve already been marked for death by an evil sorcerer. Yet we’re subjected to Dave’s dance of reticence.
Cage is remarkably restrained in the film particularly given the fact that he’s playing an almost 1,500 year old wizard. Though, admittedly, when it comes to Cage the notion of “restrained” is relative. I’m definitely grading on a curve here. He still peppers his performance with Cagian quirks and odd phrasing. It’s Baruchel who is quickly wearing out his welcome for me. I loved him in the cult TV show Undeclared but found him grating in She’s Out of My League. His shy-boy, geek persona has devolved into a series of manic tics and halted speech patterns that border on grotesquerie. We’re clearly meant to find his nasally-toned, self-effacing nerdery (yeah, that’s a word now) endearing. Ironically, all it does is make me want to kick sand his face “Charles Atlas” style.
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon) and directed by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure), the filmmakers have certainly graduated from the school of “more is more”. And it’s these scenes of excessive special effects (SFX-S?) in which the film excels. Whether it’s shooting fireballs or engaging high-speed car chases through mirror-worlds the movie delivers on its promise of magical action. However, considering the source material would it be too much to ask for a little heart?
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