x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Movie review: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina are the best things about a film that clearly sets out to be the new Harry Potter but lacks the charm.

Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina  in The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina in The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

It's not often that you find a Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster bragging of its roots in German literature (Goethe, don't you know). Less surprisingly, the film pays dutiful homage to Mickey Mouse in a painfully contrived episode involving, you guessed it, the apprentice casting a disastrous house-cleaning spell. It's unlikely that you will emerge singing the screenplay's literary merits. Credited to three writers, but bearing the grubby fingerprints of many more, The Sorcerer's Apprentice throws up several entertaining ideas, but it's too impatient to make anything stick. The movie is not boring exactly, but right from the off - a clumsily written prologue set in ancient Britain - it's an awful mess. Nicholas Cage is Balthazar, one of Merlin's three apprentices back in the day. For more than a millennium he searches for the great magician's true heir, the Prime Merlinian, eventually bumping into one Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel) in New York City - just ahead of his arch-enemy, Horvath (Alfred Molina), who also wants to get his hands on the lad. After a 10-year time out during which Dave grows up, the warring sorcerers return for another bout, this time for keeps. Balthazar takes the geeky science major into his confidence and teaches him the rudiments of sorcerery, while Horvath enlists the aid of a brash showbiz conjuror to bring about the end of times (a lively turn from RocknRolla star Toby Kebbell). Jay Baruchel - a familiar geek from the Judd Apatow School - is engaging and funny as the reluctant trainee warlock, and makes most of his feeble lines sound better than they are, although his courtship of the pretty college student Becky (Teresa Palmer) is even less believable than the supernatural shenanigans. No expense has been spared on CGI set-pieces, some of them making passably inventive use of the Big Apple setting. Cage gets around town on an eagle he's liberated from the structure of the Chrysler Building, while Molina brings a Chinatown dragon to life. The pitch here is blatant: an Americanised Harry Potter to take up the slack when that franchise runs out of legs. Directed by Jon Turteltaub, the film is brash and hectic, but devoid of the charm that works wonders for Harry. At least in Cage and Molina it serves up a couple of splendidly unrestrained exhibitionists, more than ready to stand in for the entire faculty of Hogwarts. Still, The Sorcerer's Apprentice feels desperately sloppy in the story department, and coming so soon on the heels of the same producer's equally overblown, undercooked Prince of Persia, it leaves you wondering if the days for this kind of CGI-led spectacle might be numbered. For all its digital wizardry, the movie can't shake a nagging sense of déjà-vu. Ten-year-olds will lap it up, but I wouldn't be too confident about their older siblings.