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A little cheese and a little whine

Film Log: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Details here.

I realise that this is a terribly uncharitable view, but I always think of Nicholoas Cage as the caper of the film industry. As Nora Ephron said, any dish that tastes good with capers in it, tastes even better with capers not in it. Similarly, I always feel that any film that’s good with Nicholas Cage in it would be even better with Nicholas Cage not in it. I find it hard to explain why I feel like this, but I think it may be because he seems to have grasped the idea that actors have to deliver their lines with feeling, but isn’t at all sure how his characters feel, with the result that he sounds as if he’s reading the script from a different movie which just happens to have the same lines.

I freely confess that this is pure prejudice on my part, and that Cage is in all likelihood a fine actor, but given this state of affairs, it was unlikely that I was ever going to rave about The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. To be fair, though, I don’t think even replacing Cage (the eponymous sorcerer) with another actor would have done much to rescue it. While it advertises itself as a sword-and-sorcery deal (the clue being in the title, I suppose) it is closer to being a standard superhero movie of the sort which has littered our screens over the last ten years – whiny middle-class white boy gains superpowers and goes through denial before stepping up to become a whiny middle-class white superhero. To make matters worse, the apprentice is so lacklustre that it is Cage’s sorcerer, and not he, who has to do most of the heavy lifting in the action sequences for most of the film.

The apprentice in question is a young physics prodigy, a conceit which opens the possibility of all sorts of interesting dialog about the relationship between science and magic, particularly the positioning of magic as a sort of tool or technology on the one hand and a function of spirituality on the other. Of course, the film doesn’t do anything like this, instead trying to rationalise the magic it shows as “just” physics, something it does so inconsistently and cack-handedly that it makes the closing moments of a Scooby Doo episode look like a Royal Institute lecture. In the final confrontation, the apprentice delivers the line “I didn’t come alone – I brought some science with me,” and had the rationalisation been done well, I can imagine that this would have sent shivers heading down my spine rather than my lunch heading up my oesophagus. The net result of this half-hearted writing was that we were left uncertain whether the apprentice had undertaken a spiritual journey or successfully defended his PhD thesis, with the smart money erring towards the latter.

Of the hideously contrived reference to the earlier film, replete with dancing mops and the Dukas, I shall say nothing.

The whiny apprentice is, of course, in love with a girl who is completely out of his league and with whom he has nothing in common, but who nonetheless falls for him just in time to be kidnapped and used to blackmail him. This part of the plot is mercifully short but so much so that one wonders if it was worth it it all. It does, however, enable the writers to make the usual and nauseating Disney point about the universal and laudable nature of heterosexual monogamy.

Baruchel has my deepest sympathy for having to play opposite Cage without being allowed to rub him with creosote but he gives a pretty awful performance, spending most of the film repeating what Cage says in a permanently inquisitive tone and a voice that can’t quite decide if it has broken or not. It was rather as if the fate of the world depended on Shaggy Rogers’ less charismatic, less courageous younger brother.

On the plus side, the villains lend a much-needed energy and humour to the film. Kebbel gives a lively and energetic performance as the popular stage magician who is in reality an evil sorceror (and a much better performance than his wallflower work in Prince of Persia). Molina, meanwhile, is very satisfying as the sorcerer’s nemesis Horvath, but spends a lot of the film standing about looking puzzled, presumably wondering where to find enough gravy to go with all this turkey.

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Filed under: Film + TV

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My Bookshelf

The Golden Bough
The Value of Nothing
The Fire
A Wolf at the Table
Devil Bones

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