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Nicolas Cageís transformation from fearless indie movie maverick to family film star has been an odd fit.  Itís hard to accept the same guy you saw doing Elvisí kung fu boogie alongside Laura Dernís hyper-fertility dance in Wild at Heart and eating a very large cockroach in Vampireís Kiss being the favourite of the kindergarten set.  I keep expecting Cage to explain that this era of his career is some kind of performance art experiment; hence his brilliant backslide into more adult fare as a homicidal vigilante dad training his cherubic little girl to maim and kill in the underreceived Kick-Ass.  Even so, Cage has hung in with the kiddie flicks tenaciously, becoming a bankable star for Walt Disney Studios.  Still, no matter what the uniform, itís still Nic Cage under there and in The Sorcererís Apprentice we get a glimpse, however sanitized for your childrenís protection, at Cageís famous quirk and off-beat sense of humour.

Centuries ago, a mystical battle of Arthurian proportions took place between the legendary wizard Merlinís forces of good and Morgana le Fayís league of bad news.  It was a war that sustained the loss of Merlin himself and one of his acolytes, the bewitching, beloved Veronica.  Madame le Fay and her henchman, Horvath were capped and stowed inside an innocuous-looking matryoshka doll guarded for centuries by another one of Merlinís students, the faithful Balthazar.  The lonely sorcerer keeps the fires burning for both his old master and Veronica, his old flame, spending eons of time seeking out the one in millions who will be the next Merlin, able to right the wrongs done in the last battle of the magi.  That great wizard is a shlubby kid from New York City called Dave.  An unexpected foray into the crazy antique shop that doubles as Balthazarís mystical lair shows elementary school-era Dave sights not meant for sane eyes and his retelling of the tale gets him branded a loon.  Now in college and far less accepting of the possibility of magic than he was as a child, Dave finds the sudden escalation of inexplicable phenomena happening around him a little difficult to take, regardless of the cool looking dragon ring that nestles around his finger as if it always belonged there, mostly because it does.  The dragon ring is the indicator of the new Merlin, and Balthazar, needing to keep the young man alive after his most bitter enemy, Horvath is freed from the nesting doll, recruits Dave as his apprentice, training him in the magical arts he is born to use.  The only problem is that Dave, having been burned once by all things mystical and well on his way to a fine romance with his childhood sweetheart, isnít ready to give himself over to Balthazarís rigorous demands or the craziness that being a sorcererís apprentice has in store for him.

Director Jon Turteltaub, who helmed Cageís popular National Treasure films, has certainly got a handle on the fun inherent in the movieís premise; which is essentially an origin story thatís one part Harry Potter and other part Spider Man.  Using the very real streets of New York City as a backdrop for some highly unlikely events only makes The Sorcererís Apprentice that much more fantastic.  With much of the filming taking place overnight, the blue haze that coats the city adds to the feeling of magic in the air and anything being possible.  Some standout special effects moments include Daveís pursuit by a very large, very cool dragon released by another escaped evil wizard in the midst of Chinatownís explosive New Year festival.  Balthazarís mode of escape is provided to him by a New York signature as one of the gleaming, silver art-deco eagles that guard the gorgeous Chrysler Building swoops in to save both the sorcerer and his new lackey.  Thereís also some great mirror tricks played during a high speed chase through the city streets and of course, no film called The Sorcererís Apprentice would be complete without some housekeeping gone awry.  Strangely, this scene isnít the most impressive in the film, but Turteltaub makes an effort to give the overenthusiastic mops and buckets a bit of personality.  The defense training between Balthazar and Dave also falls a bit flat as Daveís big weapon is a blue energy blast reminiscent of a very watered down version of Dragonball Zís Kamehameha wave.  Also a bit underwhelming is the final battle between Balthazar, Dave and Horvath, which loses momentum after the film runs a bit too long and spends too much time on Daveís love life.  It just isnít that spectacular after the wonders seen earlier throughout the film.  However, it is fun to see another New York icon, Di Modicaís Charging Bull Wall Street statue stamp its hooves on the side of the bad guys.

Cage is clearly enjoying playing the half-mad, obsessed Balthazar and heís great in his too-few scenes with Alfred Molina as the oily, droll Horvath.  More of these two chewing scenery would have been its own special effect.  Similarly, Alice Krige is woefully underused as Morgana, the evil enchantress in another example of Ďmore pleaseí.  As for the rest of the cast; Toby Kebbell plays a recruit of Horvathís, a cheesy pop magician cross between Criss Angel and Adam Ant.  Kebbell, in bleached blonde Kajagoogoo coiffure, should be applauded for strutting about in a pair of ridiculous New Romantic high-heeled boots without breaking an ankle.  Thatís real magic.  Jay Baruchel is serviceable as the Apprentice of the title, basically remaking a role originated by Mickey Mouse, but the character isnít any great stretch for any one of a number of ďnebbishyĒ actors running amok around Hollywood these days.  None of these thoughts will enter the heads of the little folks in the audience who will sop up this movie with a biscuit.  Despite a few fits and starts in its pacing and dragging too long in its last act, The Sorcererís Apprentice is amusing and clever and generally a good time.  Itís a summer movie that will entertain the whole family and lots of fun to see on the big screen.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 16th, 2010





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