With Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Monica Bellucci. Directed by Jon Turteltaub. Rated PG for fantasy action violence, some mild rude humor and brief language. 109 minutes.
When a movie has a prologue so complicated that you feel you should be taking notes, that’s usually a sign of trouble. With THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, it’s quickly apparent that we needn’t sweat the details.
With sources ranging from King Arthur and “Fantasia” to “Harry Potter” and “The Matrix,” it’s enough to realize that Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) is the good guy and Horvath (Alfred Molina) is the bad guy. Once you’ve got those signposts, everything else falls into place.
You see, Balthazar and Horvath were apprentices to Merlin along with Veronica (Monica Bellucci), but now Veronica is trapped in a nested doll along with the evil Morgana (Alice Krige). Horvath wants to let Morgana out. Balthazar is in love with Veronica but knows that the release of Morgana will doom mankind. The only one who can destroy Morgana is a to-be-discovered future wizard. Enter the nerdy Dave (Jay Baruchel) who, in the film’s second prologue, first meets Balthazar as a child and turns out to be the chosen one.
In the present day, Dave is a student at NYU where he meets his childhood crush Becky (Teresa Palmer). Balthazar shows up to teach him sorcery. Horvath shows up looking for the nested dolls. And even kids should have a good idea where all this is heading.
What makes it work is that it’s done with some with and a sense of fun. When you wince as Horvath delivers a line clearly ripped off from “Star Wars,” it’s redeemed when his sidekick quotes the original line and Horvath doesn’t have a clue. Likewise you wonder why the movie has a title of the famous classical music piece that gave Mickey Mouse his greatest role in “Fantasia,” until Dave tries the same trick cleaning up his laboratory. In these and other ways the filmmakers signal that they know the audience is clever enough to make the connections.
As with the recent “Prince of Persia,” the actor stealing the film is Alfred Molina, whose oily Horvath is a villain who is fun to hiss. If there’s a sequel – which is not at all unlikely – it will no doubt hinge on Molina’s availability, as much as that of the heroes. With his character’s fate unresolved at the end of the story, you can see that the filmmakers were thinking in the same direction.
Unlike with “Persia,” the rest of the cast gives Molina a run for the money. Cage is in his family-friendly “National Treasure” mode, while Baruchel gets to be nerdy but heroic as opposed to how this character would be played if this was a Judd Apatow sex comedy. Unfortunately,he women have little to do and Alice Krige is criminally underused as Morgana. Australian newcomer Teresa Palmer gets to shows some feistiness as the object of Dave’s desires, but not much.
Still, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is what ought to be the baseline for summer movies: fast, funny, entertaining, perfect for beating the heat. However in a summer with so many duds, this stands out as solid escapist fare.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.