Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
It's quite a career that Jay Baruchel's conjuring up for himself.
For a guy who is thin – ok, scrawny – doesn't have idol looks, and comes complete with a nerdy, whiny voice, he's turned up in some pretty decent films (and raised the self-esteem for countless reed-thin guys).
The Canadian 'DJ Qualls' appeared as a deluded gym rat in Million Dollar Baby, a stoner who walks into the famous crowning scene in Knocked Up, and as a rookie actor in Tropic Thunder.
More recently, he was in his element as the 'romanti-comic' lead in the under-rated comedy, She's Out of My League.
Now, in a film that proves again that producer extraordinaire Jerry Bruckheimer can make movies out of anything (Pirates of the Caribbean was based on a theme-park ride), Baruchel is ostensibly taking on a role originated by … Mickey Mouse.
That's right. He is the hapless apprentice to Nicolas Cage's grizzled old sorcerer, the same way Mickey was in the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment of the Disney animated classic Fantasia. (The segment was, in turn, inspired by a Goethe poem.)
And while this is an understandably effects-laden summer blockbuster, the film thrives under the steady hand of director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure), and the fine work from Cage, Baruchel, bad guy Alfred Molina and love interest Teresa Palmer – all of whom were perfectly cast.
The trailers did not reveal the strength of the acting in the film, which is surprisingly good, with the relationship between Cage and Baruchel's characters, the Merlin disciple Balthazar and regular-joe college kid Dave, engaging for the most part.
While there are fantastical moments that recall cheesy action fantasies like Big Trouble in Little China, they do not overwhelm the plot or overshadow the actors.
As the story goes, Dave is unwittingly the 'chosen one' that prophecy has decreed will carry on the Merlin (of King Arthur fame) tradition.
There are bad sorcerers and sorceresses who threaten the fate of New York City, and the world presumably, and it is up to the crazy-eyed and crazy-haired Balthazar and nebbish Dave to stop them.
In films of this genre, essentially a buddy movie spliced with a chase film, peppered with special effects and a romantic flirtation, the key is the lead actor – in this case, Baruchel – and his 'root-ability' by the audience.
Without a doubt, Baruchel's every-man quality, so apparent in She's Out of My League, and strong also in this film, makes him eminently likeable. Ally that with a somewhat restrained – by his standards – Cage, and you have a winning combination.
Also worth further mention are Molina, a consummate character actor for every occasion, who is a credibly sinister presence throughout, and fellow Brit Toby Kebbell, as the egotistical 'bad' apprentice with a flair for celebrity and comedy.
All things considered, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a better-than-average popcorn movie, set apart from its peers with pitch-perfect casting, brisk storytelling, fine acting and knowing nods to Disney's past.
And it is simply fun, more enjoyable than Disney's earlier Prince of Persia film if you have to compare the two.
In fact, Disney should be most satisfied with the effort here. It has both extended a brand of its own and paid homage to its own hallowed history. And thanks to the able cast and crew, this could become yet another film franchise that spawns sequels – or at least a theme-park ride?
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in!"
– Michael Corleone, The Godfather Part III