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MOVIE REVIEW: Once upon a bad time: 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' an over-the-top, dark film

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (PG)

1 1/2 stars out of 4

If you want a surefire way to determine how bad or good a movie will be before the opening credits are finished, simply count the number of writers and producers. The more there are, the worse it will be. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" has five writers and nine producers. What's that adage -- Too many cooks spoil the broth?

Two of those producers are Jerry Bruckheimer and leading man Nicolas Cage who have now collaborated on six projects, with only one of them ("The Rock") being worthy of our time and money. While technically "movies," the remainder are little more than 2-D amusement park rides that can't be ridden, only watched and boy do they ever get old fast.

Destined to fare only slightly better than Bruckheimer's strikingly similar early summer turkey "Prince of Persia," "Apprentice" will offer strong appeal to 10-year-old boys already enamored with the "Harry Potter" catalog or easily satisfied adult fanboys. Everyone else can steer clear.

Beginning with a trite "once upon a time" type prologue set in the 8th century, the first of several explanations of the back story is given and it is mercifully to-the-point. Four disciples of Merlin the magician split into good and evil camps with the latter killing Merlin and then being locked away in a ceramic doll by the former.

Chief do-gooder Balthazar (Cage) then spends the next 1,500 or so years walking the Earth toting around the doll while in search of "the Merlinian" -- Merlin's biological and spiritual heir. He turns out to be Dave (Jay Baruchel), a geeky, 20-something science nerd living in New York still reliving a pants-wetting episode from a decade earlier that lost him the love of his life.

She would be Becky (Kristen Stewart lookalike Teresa Palmer), an initially hip and with-it college student and DJ. In an only-in-the-movies way, Dave and Becky reconnect and suddenly he's faced with a perplexing dilemma: does he go for the power or Becky?

Not bright enough to realize that if he gets the power he'll probably get Becky anyway, the love-struck Dave only halfway pays attention to what Balthazar is telling him, which of course affords bad guy Horvath (Alfred Molina, dependably slimy) ample opportunity to steal Dave's magic decoder ring, break open the doll, unleash hell and destroy the world. Yawn.

Teamed previously with Bruckheimer and Cage on the two relatively restrained "National Treasure" flicks, director John Turteltaub abandons any hint of finesse here and lets fly with every bell, whistle, sound effect, CGI image and explosive in the action/adventure arsenal. The result is pyrotechnic/audio overkill of the highest order which is easily on a headache-inducing par with the two "Transformer" movies. As most of the story takes place at night or underground, the primary color is black, which only adds to our collective pain.

In case you were wondering, yes, the movie does pay homage (or something like it) to "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment of the classic "Fantasia" with Dave losing control of brooms, mops and his plumbing system while prepping for a date with Becky. It is fittingly clunky and serves no purpose other than to allow Disney the chance for a cut-rate, in-company tie-in.

You can be sure some Disney minion somewhere will be paying close attention to next week's stats to see if it all paid off and there was indeed a spike in DVD sales for "Fantasia." This company never misses a chance to make a cheap and quick buck. (Disney)