In a summer already mired in dreck, The Sorcerer's Apprentice stands high atop the unshakable
pedestal of mindless Hollywood palaver built during the last three decades
by Jerry Bruckheimer. Combining the worst elements of the Pirates
of the Caribbean franchise and Michael Bay's cinematic
catastrophes, the increasingly numbing (and shoddy) commercial instincts
of the Disney company bring us The Sorcerer's Apprentice, two hours
of narrative chaos edited with the kind of care you might expect from a drunken roustabout armed with a rusty wood-chipper.
Under the none-too-skilled
guidance of Jon Turteltaub, this film is loud, over-bearing, confusing,
and bizarre. It is incoherent, visually garish, and derivative.
It hurtles over gaping narrative chasms and uses special effects to
achieve bombastic visual non-sequiturs. There are gigantic steel eagles
for some reason, and at one point, a pentagram of fire is inscribed
over the New York City skyline. The film doesn't even understand
the geography of its own setting: at one point, Nicolas Cage's character
steps out of the Dakota (on the Upper West Side) and looks down the
street to see the Chrysler Building, which is actually located in east Midtown
at 42nd and Lexington. Credited to three screenwriters,
The Sorcerer's Apprentice was clearly written by no one at all;
no doubt corporate stooges in producer costumes used the same process
to make the film that Mickey Mouse used in the animated short of the
same title - chopping up bigger and better films into unrecognizable
bits, each bit growing into a far more lethal, disjointed, and monstrous
thing than it was in its original form.
The story, such as it is, opens
with a wholly incomprehensible prologue, in which medieval sorcerers
fight over something or other. In brief, we see ancient versions
of the characters played by Nicolas Cage, Alfred Molina, Monica Bellucci,
and Alice Krige battling it out in a castle. Merlin is killed,
and the others are fighting over who is to be his heir, or something.
Flash forward, to the year
2000 in New York City. Ten-year-old Dave Stutler (Jake Cherry)
gets lost on a field trip. He wanders into a strange shop, where
he meets Balthazar Blake (Cage) and, shortly thereafter, his nemesis
Maxim Horvath (Molina). Dave is given a special ring before trapping
Blake and Horvath together in a magical urn. Flash forward, again,
to the present. Dave is now a college student, played by Jay Baruchel.
He has nearly forgotten about his encounter with the ageless sorcerers,
when the ten-year curse keeping Blake and Horvath bottled up lifts,
releasing them into the city. Blake locates Dave, and convinces
him that he demonstrates the promise of a great sorcerer. They
join forces to defeat Horvath and his conspirators...and there's a
girl, too, of course, played by Teresa Palmer.
Take my word for it that the
above description is both more coherent and more enjoyable than what
actually plays out over the course of the movie. Cage restrains
his usual scenery-chewing, but it's still hard to take him seriously
as a source of great wisdom and power. Baruchel hams it up like an indie rock Jerry Lewis, over-playing
his nerdy thing beyond acceptable limits. Alfred Molina makes
the most of his villainous role, bringing moments of wit and menace
to a character who could easily have been forgettable. Still,
on balance, it's evident that the actors are trying, against enormous
odds, to bring some kind of coherence to their work.
But anyone playing these roles
would have encountered the same challenges, because what really plagues
The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a horrifically spastic approach to
storytelling. The movie is a pure hack job, with scene trims obvious
at every turn, as the result of either a script constantly in flux,
the effort to secure a PG rating, or some other more nefarious or incompetent
chain of events. Things are constantly happening for no apparent
reason, which is especially noteworthy since the "magic" at the
center of the story is never explained - not once, not even
a little bit. We never find out who the sorcerers are, where they
come from, or why they exist. Their command of "magic" is
a license to do just about anything, without limitation or handicap
- which makes a major car chase scene even more absurd than your average
poorly-staged action sequence. Why in the world would two sorcerers,
with limitless power over time and space, use automobiles to pursue
one another? This question, which will occur to anyone over the
age of five, apparently never came up in a story meeting - another
indication that no actual writers were ever engaged to work on a screenplay.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice,
while rarely outright offensive, is a prime example of Hollywood filmmaking
as a slaughterhouse of ideas. It is a failure from the perspective
of each of the many creative endeavors that go into the making of a
movie. Skip it.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.