In Theaters: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

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.

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