Friday, July 23, 2010


Nothing about the new Walt Disney juvenile fantasy-comedy “The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (*** out of ****) makes a lick of sense. Nevertheless, “National Treasure” director Jon Turteltaub along with “Race to Witch Mountain” scripter Matt Lopez and “Prince of Persia” scribes Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard have conjured up such a harmless, featherweight, phantasmagorical fantasy that you need not worry about its list of clichés. This centuries old tale about a venerable Arthurian wizard who tutors a 21st century, twenty-something, New York City physics nerd in the art of uttering incantations and casting spells is appealing but predictable summer entertainment laced with dazzling computer generated graphics. The rival wizards in “The Sorcerer's Apprentice" have a blast bringing gigantic, inanimate objects to life with their outlandish magic. Leather-coated hero Nicolas Gage swoops across the glittering Manhattan horizon after dark astride the steel eagle from the Chrysler building, while villainous Alfred Molina breathes life into the Wall Street bull so it can gore his adversary. This hopelessly derivative adventure remains fairly nimble throughout its brisk 108-minutes thanks to Turteltaub’s energetic helming and a charismatic cast. Not even the most impressionable adolescent could possibly seek refuge in their parent’s arms as this whimsy unfolds. Nothing remotely scary occurs during the derring-do that the heroes and villains do.

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” opens with a whirlwind expository prologue set in the year 740 A.D. The illustrious Arthurian wizard Merlin (James A. Stephens of “Sherlock Holmes”) and the evil sorceress Morgana Le Fay (Alice Krige of “Star Trek: First Contact”) clash in a life and death struggle over the future of mankind. Morgana dreams of raising a zombie army in an infamous ceremony called ‘the rising’ to enslave the world. Merlin’s two most trustworthy protégés, Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage of “Next”) and Veronica (Monica Bellucci of “Shoot 'Em Up”), arrive too late to save the elderly wizard from death. Nevertheless, the beautiful Veronica summons her own potent magic and absorbs Morgana’s wicked soul into her own body. Once inside Veronica’s lovely body, Morgana tries to kill her from within. Since Balthazar lacks the power to defeat Morgana, he traps Morgana and Veronica handily in the Grimhold. Basically, the Grimhold consists of a set of dolls of smaller sizes inserted one within the other. Veronica and Morgana remain imprisoned until Balthazar can find the person who can destroy Morgana. Merlin gives Balthazar a Dragon Ring that will recognize the Prime Merlinian and wrap itself around his forefinger. The Prime Merlinian is Merlin’s direct descendent, and the only wizard who can whip Morgana. Meantime, as Merlin’s 1,300-year-old understudy embarks on his global quest to find the Prime Merlinian, Balthazar imprisons other villainous sorcerers determined to free Morgana. One of those minions is Balthazar’s former friend Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina of “Spider-man 2”) who despises Balthazar. Horvath is jealous because Veronica fell in love with Balthazar. Dutifully, Balthazar searches for a thousand years with no luck until he takes up residence in the Big Apple in an old curiosity shop of antiques.

Ten-year old Dave (Jake Cherry of “Night at the Museum”) has a knack for doing some pretty cool things. During a subway train ride into the city, Dave sketches the figure of King Kong with biplanes attacking the great ape on the window of his coach. Dave leaves out the details because his sketch lines up perfectly with the Empire State Building, and young blond Becky (Peyton List of “Remember Me”) thinks that Dave is something else. As their class outing winds down, Dave passes Becky a message. Is he cool enough to be Becky’s friend or her romantic interest? She circles one of the responses and folds the note. When Dave tries to collect it, a gust of wind whisks it away with Dave in hot pursuit. It flies from a bike tire to a dog’s paw and eventually into Balthazar’s shop. Dave ventures inside and Balthazar lets him try on the ring. Presto, the Dragon takes up residence on Dave’s forefinger. Balthazar leaves Dave alone momentarily to fetch a book of incantations when Maxim Hovarth arrives and all hell breaks loose. Actually, Dave knocked over the nesting doll, and disgusting bugs—as in Brendan Fraser “The Mummy”—swarm from the outermost doll to form Hovarth. Balthazar and Hovarth tangle. They set the building on fire. Dave flees with the remnants of the Grimhold and throws it into the street. During all this chaos, Dave’s pants are splashed, and his school chums laugh in derision at his predicament, believing that he has urinated on himself. Poor Becky feels bad for Dave. Meantime, Balthazar has taken Hovarth with him and confined him in a vase. They remain trapped there for ten years.

Ten years later, David (whiny Jay Baruchel of “She's Out of My League”) is a 20-year old N.Y.U. physics geek. He runs into Becky (Teresa Palmer of “Bedtime Stories”) at the university and they hook up. Meantime, Hovarth escapes from the vase and Balthazar isn’t far behind his arch foe. Hovarth renews his search for the elusive Russian doll that holds Morgana. Balthazar catches up with David and convinces him that he has a legacy to fulfill as Merlin’s successor. Initially, David lacks confidence and this lack of confidence clouds his relationship with Becky, but she likes him despite his foolish behavior. David uses an old subway station turn-around as a laboratory where he conducts his experiments and impresses Becky. Balthazar warns David that they have no time for romance as Hovarth retrieves the Grimhold and sheds its shells. Horvath plans to free Morgana. Desperately, Balthazar has to whip David into shape, but David seems like a lost cause.
Mind you, “Harry Potter” fans may complain that this hodgepodge hocus-pocus lacks a certain dignity. Meanwhile, Disney purists may scoff at cinematic alchemist, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, for his homage to the 9-minute Mickey Mouse scene in Disney's classic "Fantasia" (1940) with the inspirational dish-washing scene about an hour into this obstreperous comedy of errors.