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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (review)

Magic the Blathering

Oh, how lovely to be wrong! Here I’ve been saying for quite a long while now that Hollywood has lost the capacity to surprise me, and then along comes this movie. When I heard that Disney was going to make a live-action Sorcerer’s Apprentice, of course I never supposed that that meant, you know, actually mounting a live-action duplication of the Mickey Mouse segment from Fantasia, in which Mickey, the titular sorcerer’s apprentice, gets into trouble with some cleaning implements, which he has magicked into life to do the janitorial work Mickey himself was instructed to do.

But lo and behold and WTF, here’s adorkable Jay Baruchel, New York University physics student/apprentice to sorcerer Nicolas Cage, getting molested by dancing mops as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 2010 style, comes to a complete standstill so that the literal replication of a 70-year-old cartoon can force its way into a movie where it clashes tonally, interrupts the plot, and just plain makes no sense.

Bravo, Disney. Bravo.
What’s an even greater astonishment is that, up till this point, when magic mops start poking Baruchel in the ass about halfway through the film, Percy Potter’s Apprentice had already been pretty dismally slapdash, cheap looking — despite its rumored $175 million-ish production budget — and just plain idiotic. Wizards Balthazar (Cage: Kick-Ass, Astro Boy) and Horvath (Alfred Molina: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, An Education) have been feuding for a thousand years, to the point where the entire planet is now in danger of apoca-armageddon or something… all because a lady wizard, Veronica (Monica Bellucci: Shoot ’Em Up, Napoleon and Me), chose one of them over the other? Seriously? Grow the fuck up, dudes, and get over yourselves. And now Balthazar has to stop Horvath from doing something or other lest the entire planet be destroyed. And yet there’s still time for Dave (Baruchel: How to Train Your Dragon, She’s Out of My League) to go on a date and get goosed by magic mops.

The mind, she boggles.

I didn’t think it was possible for Jon Turteltaub and star Cage to make a worse movie than the National Treasure nightmares, which reduced cool concepts such an secret societies and ancient artifacts to the stuff of theme-park rides. (How ironic is it that Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean took a theme-park ride and made it sing out loud with charming goofiness and sneakily hum with deep-down universal themes about love and honor and living life on your own terms? Here’s a tip for Disney for the future: Take the existing crap stuff, like a really boring ride at Disney World, and make it better. Do that again. Stop taking the awesome stuff, like probably the best Mickey Mouse cartoon, and making it suck.) But they’ve done it. They’ve taken the magic out of magic — everybody was C-G fight-in’! sing along with me! — and striven so desperately for would-be humor that when poor Baruchel (who deserves better than this) gets a magic plasma bolt to the crotch, you have to at least laugh at the movie for thinking this is the best it could do.

Here is a movie that actually Mystery Science Theaters itself. It thinks you won’t notice — or maybe you’ll even think it’s cool! — when it shamelessly steals from far, far better similar stories and then has a random character make a quippy reference to those far better stories. It’s plagiarism as a virtue! Hey, kids, if you’re gonna pirate movies, the movies are gonna start doing it, too.

No, but see: Dave has to go on a date with Becky (Teresa Palmer: Bedtime Stories, December Boys), he just has to!, because otherwise she won’t be around to be his prize come the end of the film and the averting of apoca-armageddon. (Yes, I spoiled. It’s a Disney movie. Did you honestly think that armies of undead evil wizards would be allowed to roam the Earth? Warner Bros. does that. What, did you think this was a Harry Potter movie? Yeah, it’s an easy mistake to make.) It’s the same reason why the sorcerer who needed an apprentice couldn’t have been Veronica, because even though Bellucci is far more breathtaking and bodacious and totally takes over the screen when she get the rare chance to be on it here — kinda like a powerful sorcerer should do, just like Cage can’t — the screenwriters, all six of them, would have had to come up with a better reason for, you know, the entire fucking story than “He stole my girlfriend! Wah!”

Look: Balthazar tried to find an apprentice — the “Prime Merlinian,” and yes, it took six screenwriters to come up with that — who wasn’t a skinny whiny white guy. You can see for yourself in flashbacky opener, which sucks all the drama out of what might have been a thousand years of decent story to show us Cage interviewing little black kids and little Indian kids and all sorts of nicely diverse would-be magicians. Is it Balthazar’s fault that the savior of the planet is yet another white American? Of course not! No one can understand the ways of magic, and it is not our place to question them.

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