Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) had been searching for the “Prime Merlinian” for 1270 years and in all that time never caught wind of this invention called shampoo. He did however develop a liking for ultra-long rawhide trench coats and other such comic book Goth super-stylings and at some point wisely chose to base himself in New York City, a place where one can go out wearing such flamboyant vestments without drawing too much unwanted attention.
Balthazar was biding time running a grimy midtown antique shop when he first met Dave (Jay Baruchel) back in 2000, but Dave was just a little kid then and not quite ready to assume his duties as savior of the world. Ten years later Dave’s grown into a nerdy genius physics major at NYU, and when Balthazar’s old nemesis Horvath (Alfred Molina) is resurrected from a pillar of roaches Dave’s belated date with destiny finally arrives. He’s taken under Balthazar’s wing, is ordered to wear pointy shoes, and learns how to make molecules vibrate faster and cough up plasma bolts and fireballs, both of which, it should be said, look pretty awesome. Indeed, the fairly seamless parade of luminous special effects in Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is by far the best thing in the movie, whose story is entirely mechanical, formulaic enough that you can take naps and not miss a thing, and whose performances range from pleasant to annoying.
Director John Turteltaub’s been making movies for all ages for ages, among them Cool Runnings, 3 Ninjas, Disney’s The Kid and both National Treasure movies, which I guess is where he became pals with Cage, who repeatedly flings his locks and trench coat but isn’t let off the leash enough here to be very interesting even as pure camp. Canada’s own Baruchel meanwhile delivers hunchy, squirmy, fidgety affectations that seemed fairly purposeful in The Trotsky but here just get distracting and oblivious to the vibe conjured by his collaborators, especially his token love interest (Teresa Palmer). You have to wonder, did they bother to ask Michael Cera?
In any case Turteltaub’s doesn’t give his actors enough space to fully play the comedy, but he keeps things jumping at least, letting our eyes roam all over as, for example, we watch a Chinese dragon careen through Chinatown or a brassy bull bash up Battery Park. Yet for all the expensive location work there isn’t a single scene in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice that actually resembles New York in the slightest. Too bad, since all that hocus-pocus would probably feel more magical if it were unleashed in settings that felt more like real life.