The Sorcerer's Apprentice

a film by Jon Turtletaub

I must admit to having had some rather blatant preconceptions when first walking into Jon Turtletaub's Disney franchise-in-the-making, The Sorcererís Apprentice. First and foremost among said preconceptions is the idea that the movie was going to suck - and suck big time. But guess what? The movie did not suck - or at least it did not suck big time.

Already at a negative by riffing on the Mickey Mouse-starring episode from 1940's Fantasia (one of Disney's true classics!) and turning it into a full-length, live-action, Nicholas Cage-starring, summer blockbuster wannabe, Turtletaub's movie held no interest whatsoever for this critic, except perhaps for curiosity's sake at how one could take that aforementioned Fantasia episode and transform it into a feature-length money-making franchise (and no bones about it - that is exactly what the intended outcome was meant to be!). Well that, and to see just how batshitcrazy Nic Cage gets when he has the power of ancient sorcery behind his already flaming headed acting prowess.

Yet, preconceptions be damned, the film is actually pretty damn entertaining - up to a point. Sure, it is pure formula filmmaking (and what else is mainstream cinema these days than just that!?) and no one (director, writer, actors, art directors, cinematographers, sound editors, musicians, effects teams) does anything unexpected with their time, and yes, it is made for the sole purpose of making shitloads of cash and kick starting yet another hapless Hollywood franchise, but when all is said and done, the film ain't half bad. Of course it ain't half good either. If anything at all, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a middling-to-fair kind of entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless. It certainly isn't the worst way to open a franchise.

Though the titular star (not an animated mouse this time btw) Jay Baruchel is averagely capable, Cage is quite enjoyable as the sorcerer in shining armour (actually in old leather trenchcoat!) and Alfred Molina is equally fun as his centuries-old archrival (and requisite foreign-looking villain!), the special effects seem well-done (if you are into that kind of thing - and again, mainstream cinema assumes that you are) and the storyline, though standard boilerplate stuff, holds up enough for what it is. I suppose all that is pretty lackluster-sounding praise (if it is indeed praise at all!) but that is about all this critic can muster for a picture that is enjoyable, but in the most median strip kinda way.

Of course this quite plebeian style of filmmaking shouldn't be all that much of a surprise considering the man at the proverbial helm. I don't want to say anything that could be construed as liable (or slander if one were to tell it to him verbally) but when it comes to listing the great filmmakers of our time, the name Jon Turtletaub would more likely than not, be left off such a list. With an oeuvre that includes such memorable titles as 3 Ninjas, Cool Runnings, Phenomenon, While You Were Sleeping and The Kid, one could certainly make an argument for mediocrity in filmmaking. I suppose his money-making National Treasure franchise raises the bar, so to speak, but success through mediocrity is not really success - is it?

In the end though, the movie is not nearly as awful as I had originally expected it to be - in fact it is surprisingly enjoyable, if quite formulaic and sorely PG-13 (Nic Cage is so much better when he is able to completely unfurl that freak flag of his!) - and one must take their victories where one gets them. But then, when is a magic-wielding, trenchcoat-wearing, incantation-spouting, thousand year old Nic Cage (even when held back by the ratings system!) not a victory? Ah well, it could have been worse - and one can only assume the inevitable sequel will be. [07/21/10]