THE SORCERERS APPRENTICE starts with so much promise. Nicolas Cage as Balthazar, the eccentric and eponymous sorcerer on a quest to find Merlins heir and with him conquer the evil sorcerers bent on ruling the world by first destroying it. Jay Baruchel as Dave, the sweet but stuttering science geek and, as a magic dragon ring reveals, the eponymous apprentice. Alfred Molina as Horvath, the pompous and gleefully wicked sorcerer out to free the evil sorceress (Alice Krige) trapped in a matrushka-like device a thousand years ago, as well as the other evil magicians in there with her. Alas, after a solid first half, replete with clever special effects and diverting performances by all concerned, the flick falls apart, spinning its wheels until the climactic final battle when the fate of creation is at stake, as is two romances of different but equally epic proportions. Not to mention shoe-horning in the inspiration for the exercise. That would be the iconic sequence from FANTASIA wherein Mickey Mouse, as another sorcerers apprentice, brings mops to life in order to save himself some manual labor with disastrous results. Maybe if the film werent so choppy at that point, it would have worked.
Cage and Baruchel, each with a different but sharply defined sense of the quirky, play off one another with a wonderfully Disney-esque charm. Cage with quiet assurance spiked with an introverted oddness, Baruchel exploding in discombobulated astonishment, embarrassed or delighted. They are tricks that serve them well when the film gets ragged. Until then, its a delight to watch Dave switch from his impressive collection of Tesla coils and obsession with theoretical physics to the irresistible lure of spontaneous plasma balls he can conjure by using that part of his mind that most people leave fallow, and to attempt reverence for the peculiar habits of his new master, and the pointy, old man shoes he is forced to wear that somehow make him more grounded. Molina never misses a beat strutting in the spats in which he was imprisoned himself a century or so back, oozing insincere charm and very sincere malevolence with even the smallest tilt of his head.
The magic itself fills the screen admirably even if it lacks originality. The execution is delightful, from the spooky old curio shop in which the 10-year-old Dave first encounters Balthazar and that snake ring that coils itself around his finger, to architectural embellishments taking wing, to an all-too brief trip to mirror-land, to a shaky but successful attempt to stave off a mugger in the subway using the materials at hand. There is also a sense of wonder to the way Balthazar explains magic to his 21-century materialist of a pupil. When asked if what he does manipulating matter at a molecular level is magic or science, the reply is yes and yes, thus marrying metaphysics with physics and leaving he audience with a strong curiosity about the further implications.
There is also the magic of Dave attempting to reconnect with his once and future childhood sweetheart (Teresa Palmer) while also mastering magic. He fumbles words and gravity. She smiles sweetly and thinks hes a charmer. Its not much on depth as far as roles go, but Palmer brings some spirit to it. Monica Bellucci as Balthazars long-lost love has less to do, while Toby Kebbel as Horvaths cohort who suffers abandonment issues and a penchant for the wrong kind of flash deftly steals scenes just with the force of his puckish personality without needing to rely on the goth-punk-retro wardrobe and mile-high hair.
The sense of warm and fuzzy wonder that starts things off doesnt stand a chance against the uneven, badly edited mess that follows, shifting abruptly away from focusing on the characters and turning into yet another big loud special effects extravaganza. THE SORCERERS APPRENTICE is a missed opportunity that is irksome for having had the makings of a classic.