Feb 10, 2011

The Sorcerer's Apprentice: Why not?

I break another lengthy hiatus for a film that was unexpectedly entertaining. Perhaps my expectations were so low that anything above dismal would do. I have a vague memory of unanimously bad reviews following the release of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. It was released around the same time as The Last Airbender, and I wonder if it absorbed some residual negativity since it sort of fills the same genre niche. The trailer highlighted some of the cheesier aspects of the film, as I recall. Couple that with my distrust of Nicholas Cage's role choices, and one might understand my prejudgment. I am glad, on some level, that I gave it a shot, but Nicholas Cage was pretty awful.

So, a brief synopsis: A ten year old wanders into an ancient magician's antique shop, allows Balthazar (Nicholas Cage), the owner and proprietor, to give him a weird little dragon figurine which becomes a hideously nerdy ring upon touching his skin. This is the sign Balthazar has been waiting for for 700 years. Dave (Jay Baruchel) is the Prime Merlinian, the heir of Merlin's great power. Of course, being ten, he manages to release from a magical holding cell Horvath (Alfred Molina), Balthazar's wicked rival. Balthazar must imprison himself with Horvath for ten years in a Chinese urn in order to allow Dave's narrow escape. When Balthazar returns, he hunts down Dave and begins to teach him magic so he can stop the rise of the most evil sorceress of all time. What connects Dave and Balthazar, despite their differences and often hostility towards one another, is that they are where they are because they loved someone. Balthazar cares about saving the world, but he is also motivated by a desire to save his love. Dave came to the magic shop chasing a  love note carried on the breeze and was reunited with this childhood crush shortly before his reintroduction to Balthazar after ten years away from both of them.

I was drawn in by Jay Baruchel's strange charm, which may have something to do with the way he sometimes sounds like a young Christian Slater. The jokes were hackneyed, but in an expected and Disney-ish way, and I can't really say they were that bad. I enjoyed the homage to the old Fantasia. Maybe it went a little too far when one of Dave's enchanted mops rammed him in the butt repeatedly while he tried to get his would-be girlfriend to leave lest she discover his magically moving mops just behind the door.

I was not expecting the story to offer such a plausible and sensible explanation for the existence of magic. Balthazar tells Dave, as he acquaints him with the basics that he, Dave, is good at science because he is a magician and magic is simply science controlled by a magician's thoughts at the molecular level. This really works for the movie. It wasn't necessary to provide a reason for magic to be possible, but they did it and well.

Here's the bad part: Horvath finds Dave and wants to kill or capture him. Horvath has been clearly established, up to this point, as a serious badass. The kind of magic that is possible should allow Horvath to magically pin Dave to the wall and crush his windpipe (a la Darth Vader), but Horvath instead allows Dave to run out of the apartment, chased by wolves Horvath conjured from a wall calendar in Dave's apartment . The wolves do run down our hero and nearly kill him, but I have to ask the bad guy, "why risk his escape if you are a sorcerer?" Dave doesn't know any magic yet. He's alone and defenseless. A burglar could have done a better job.

Lame and totally unbelievable escapes aside, this was not a terrible movie. There were some decent visual effects and fun concepts, such as a high speed car chase in which the good guys become imprisoned on the opposite side of a mirror and must race to a reflective surface to get out again while the bad guys (on the right side of reality) smash all the windows and mirrors in Times Square to prevent their escape. The film certainly wasn't great, but the actors each did their part lifting the bad writing to its best potential. There was at least a cohesive plot, which was much more than I anticipated. If you have nothing better to do on a rainy day, and you need to entertain some 13 year olds, this would be the prefect thing to watch.

Here's your BONUS (see David Copperfield link below) for sticking with it to the end: Another nuisance came in the character of quasi-evil sorcerer Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell), a punk-ish version of David Copperfield (so adorable in this picture). The character was annoying and fairly useless to the plot.