The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Opens Wed., July 14
Nicolas Cage is simple: He either cares or he doesn’t. If he cares, he brings the batshit, going to places few actors (or people in general) have gone before. (Some cite Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant remake as his apex, but true Cageologists know it’s Vampire’s Kiss.) If he doesn’t care, he’s an expensive robot, uttering each line in the sleepy monotone that has kept him a bankable star for longer than he probably deserves. Inexplicably, his turn in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, as an ageless conjurer with a dirty trenchcoat and Gavin Rossdale hair, falls into neither category.
Cage isn’t boring, but he’s not crazy, either. He gives every line a certain spring to its step, but he doesn’t push it into the realms of the unknown. Give him a pickle (as the filmmakers do) and he’ll do something weird with it, but he’s rarely given anything to work with. His performance falls into that frustrating middle ground, as does the film.
Not, alas, the long-awaited modernization-cum-urbanization of the 18th-century Goethe poem, Apprentice uses the source material (well, it uses the Mickey Mouse Fantasia segment that used the Dukas musical adaptation of the source material, anyway) as a jumping-off point. Jay Baruchel, 28, plays a 19-year-old NYU physics major who learns from Cage that he’s destined to thwart the apocalyptic plans of a nefarious occultist (Alfred Molina), and maybe also to score a blond clone of Kristen Stewart (Teresa Palmer). It’s Joseph Campbell wish-fulfilment boilerplate, with large chunks of Tolkien (magic rings!) and terms like “grimhold” and “prime Merlinian” casually bandied about.
Starting with the old-fashioned ham-off between Cage and Molina that never materializes, Apprentice teems with squandered promise. A clever, Kick-Ass-worthy subplot about Molina’s apprentice (Toby Kebbell), who milked his powers for a successful career as a magician, is introduced only to be abandoned. What could have been the most insane car chase since the bi-temporal one in Deja Vu (our heroes are able to magically change cars and briefly get trapped in a mirror world) is perfunctory in the joyless hands of director Jon Turteltaub (of National Treasure).
Apprentice upchucks the occasional bizarre imagery: crying sockets, metal falcons, and most brow-furrowingly, a parade dragon turned into a real dragon, including a shot of the poor men inside suddenly trapped in a real stomach. But, like its star, it’s better than dull while still not trying very hard, which is a shame. Really, all the filmmakers had to do was give Cage a “lucky crack pipe.”