Great actors go slumming in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,’ an occasionally fun film that over-explains

In 2005, “The Simpsons” featured an episode titled “Future-Drama,” in which Bart and Lisa get to see their lives eight years in the future. Aside from the “you’re gay for Moleman” line, one of the episode’s best gags comes when Marge announces, “Everything’s so easy since scientists invented magic!”

It may not be the first example of TV and movie writers trying to explain what used to be unexplainable with “logic,” but it certainly captures the zeitgeist of a time when science rules and there has to be a rational explanation, no matter how stupid, behind everything.

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” while entertaining enough, gets bogged down by this tendency, which effectively sucks most of the wonder out of the story. Why can’t magic just be magic? 

The titular sorcerer is Balthazar (Nicolas Cage, “Kick-Ass”), who started out as one of Merlin’s apprentices back in the day. He was betrayed by his best friend, Horvath (Alfred Molina, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”), which led to Merlin’s death and Balthazar’s girlfriend, Veronica (Monica Bellucci, “Shoot ‘Em Up”), being trapped in a nested doll with arch-villainess Morgana Le Fay (Alice Krige, “Silent Hill”).

For more than a thousand years, Balthazar searches for the person destined to inherit Merlin’s power. He stumbles across him in the person of Dave (Jay Baruchel, “She’s Out of My League”), a geeky physics major at NYU.

In the interim, Horvath was trapped in the nesting doll with Veronica and Morgana. He is accidentally released and starts trying to kill Dave and release Morgana. Balthazar takes Dave as his apprentice so he can take out Horvath.

Anyhoo, Dave gets all distracted by Becky (Teresa Palmer, “Bedtime Stories”), the movie’s requisite hot blonde. Balthazar wonders if love will distract Dave, or give him the inner strength to master “magic” and defeat his enemies? Only the lucky few who have never seen a Disney movie will be surprised by the answer.

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is OK. It’s got some fun stuff like a flying metal eagle, a dragon and some cool sorcerer battles. Baruchel, not playing the straight man to a group of comedians, seems out of his element, although he makes the best of the situation. Cage does his Nic Cage thing, which is fine. Molina, Krige and Bellucci are almost slumming here, but bring much-needed legitimacy to the proceedings.

Still, the whole plot revolves around magic not really being magic, but the ability of sorcerers to manipulate objects’ molecular structures with electricity or whatever. Tesla coils come into play, and science becomes Dave’s greatest weapon. The only thing is that using science to explain magic doesn’t make any more sense than just saying it’s magic.

Seriously, how can you expect people to believe that electricity can turn a paper dragon into a real dragon? For that to happen, science would have to invent magic. The “scientific” explanation becomes even more absurd than the usual magical one, and the whole thing becomes labored and tedious. “Mike Robertson

Mike Robertson

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