Strong chemistry elevates an otherwise lackluster film
Jerry Bruckheimer seemingly has a formula down pat for establishing a summer franchise. Take an up and coming young actor and pair him with an established leading man in a supporting role, throw in a prominent character actor as a villain and keep it light and you have the ingredients for a hit franchise. Bruckheimer has always been known for popcorn fare and two of his hits, Pirates of the Carribean and National Treasure, have provided the foundation for his future attempts at a franchise. The former had Orlando Bloom, Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush while the latter used Justin Bartha, Nicolas Cage and Sean Bean in similar functions in the new Bruckheimer formula. Bruckheimer has attempted to duplicate that success in 2010 with two different films attempting to set up his next franchise: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a video game turned flop. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice marks his second major production of the year and it’s interesting to see that in the latter he’s gone back to his National Treasure roots as Nic Cage and John Turtelaub enter into familiar roles. And despite an interesting setup, and good chemistry between its leads, it can’t quite capture the lighting in a bottle that National Treasure did.
A thousand years ago, Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) and Maxim (Alfred Molina) were apprentices of Merlin when Maxim ended up turning on Merlin. After being trapped in a magical jar for some time, the two center on Dave (Jay Baruchel). He’s a physics student who also happens to be the Prime Merlinian, a sorcerer destined to foil Maxim’s plan to take over the world. Maxim obviously wants him dead and Balthazar needs him alive; the film centers on Balthazar’s attempt at making Dave into the sorcerer he’s meant to be while avoiding Maxim’s attempts on his life.
The comparison to National Treasure is an easy one, based purely on having Cage as the film’s main star and John Turtelaub behind the camera, but it’s also the most accurate one. The film is trying to capture that magic in a different setting, with a slight variant on the casting, but there’s something missing. There’s not as much joy in the script or anything that’s extraordinarily interesting to be found in it. There’s no magic in the air, as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice feels a bit artificial as opposed to the organic energy that made National Treasure an interesting (if flawed) film.
It does have an energetic Nic Cage, though, which is never a bad thing. Comfortable in the blockbuster film, Cage gives a thankless role the sort of manic energy and purpose that can elevate a subpar film like this. Cage has his “crazy” acting style in full effect as Balthazar is just crazy enough to be interesting but not crazy enough to be a parody. It’s not a brilliant performance by any stretch of the imagination but it’s kooky enough to bring some fun to the film. It doesn’t hurt that he has a good chemistry with Jay Baruchel, saddled with a rather bland role as Dave. They are both at heart comic actors and they work well with one another; it’d be interesting to see what they could do in a better film.
And that’s ultimately the problem. Once you strip away two lead actors who work well together you’re left with a film that doesn’t have much more to offer besides that. It’s entertaining and perfectly acceptable entertainment but never gets above that level.
Director: John Turtelaub Notable Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer Writer(s): Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard and Matt Lopez based off the screen story by Matt Lopez, Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, inspired by the poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe