With his slacker charisma and vaguely distracted acting affect, Nicolas Cage has filled the roles of characters good, bad, ugly, and virtuous in his IMDb-profile-building day, including his dastardly turn in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant remake last year. Shifting easily from Herzog to Disney, in the latest pop-culture update of Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Cage drifts over to the good side, as master sorcerer Balthazar Blake, fighting the good fight against the evil Morganian sorcerers all over New York City, while mentoring our young NYU-student apprentice hero, Dave (Jay Baruchel).
Questions abound: Will the mentor and protégé prevail over the evildoers (you can tell who the bad sorcerers are by their British accents, e.g., Alfred Molina) in time to save the world? Will our mortal and would-be magical protagonist, Dave, accept his fate as a sorcerer in waiting (and training), while also winning the love of Becky (Teresa Palmer)? And lastly, what would Goethe think?
Sorcery comes in various shades of modern to retro in the film, from reality-tweaking CGI feats in the fight scenes to a central role for Tesla coils. Deep into the tale, the film makes a sly reference to the famed scene from the Disney masterpiece Fantasia, with mops running amok in apparent live-action real time. Returning to repair the water damage, the master sorcerer rebukes the young mischief-maker for “abusing a sacred art.” In its worst moments, this new film abuses a sacred American memory, being that classic Fantasia vignette. By the protracted wizbang of the final showdown, things get pretty dull and overwrought, and once-promising movie material turns to digital dust.
Yes, it’s all a bit overly laced with hokum and skimpy in the empathetic-character and engaging-narrative departments, and the film’s special-effects team is given more prominence than it should. Even so, this Apprentice has enough entertainment gizmos in the works to make it an enjoyable summertime popcorny experience at the multiplex.