Radio 07.16.10
 
This is Ron Salfen, “At the Movies,” and here’s my commentary on a film opening this week at The Majestic Theater in Greenville :
 
            “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” may borrow from a lot of recent fantasy tales, but it’s kid-friendly, interesting, well-cast, and funny, which is a winsome combination at any movie.
            Nicolas Cage plays Balthazar, one of Merlin’s apprentices who doesn’t age, but frequently gets stuck in time, trapped in a certain kind of magic urn.  The other two apprentices, Horvath (Alfred Molina) and Veronica (Monica Bellucci), are also alternately trapped and conspiring against each other to find the true owner of Merlin’s own magic ring, which will come to life when “the chosen one” puts it on.
            They’ve been looking for this “chosen one” for, oh, about 1300 years or so.  Somewhere along the line, this turned into a love triangle, and though Veronica chose Balthazar over Horvath, forever creating enmity between those two, Veronica herself seems to be inhabited by some sort of evil spirit that seeks to destroy everything.  (Well, in true Disney fashion, evil has to appear somewhere.  In this case, it’s just particularly ill-defined.)
            Dave (Jay Baruchel) is just a 10-year-old kid when he first enters Balthazar’s bizarre magic store, and the ring immediately finds his finger and latches on there.  But Balthazar is being pursued by the relentless Horvath, and it’s another 10 years before Dave, now a nerdy 20-year-old physics student, again becomes enmeshed in the centuries-old cosmic struggle.  However, there’s a good part of Dave that doesn’t want to be bothered with becoming a principal player in gothic combat with universal implications:  mainly, he just wants to fiddle with his scientific experiments in his basement, and maybe impress a girl from school, Becky (Teresa Palmer).  
            Balthazar, of course, doesn’t take “no” for an answer so easily, and soon Dave is training for the giant struggle he feels he didn’t sign up for:  learning to work his dormant magic skills (shades of Luke Skywalker being taught the ways of The Force, or even Harry Potter going to Hogwarts).  And, of course, there are those using their “special abilities” for selfish ends, and, just to complicate matters, Horvath manages to plant the seed in David’s mind that Balthazar himself could be the one acting out of self-interest, thus confusing who the “good guy” is in all this.  Horvath, too, has an apprentice, eerily reminiscent of one of the “donkey boys” in Pinocchio:  lazy, self-absorbed, and destined to underachieve.
            Of course we all want Dave to wake up and tap into his great potential, and accept his destiny as the reluctant world savior, while at the same time getting the girl and not becoming too full of himself in the process.  As expected, the relationship between Dave and Balthazar, at first strained, becomes an important transition for both. 
            There’s a wonderful little scene with runaway mops and buckets, a fitting tribute to the classic Disney sequence in “Fantasia.” Cage is toned down just enough to be intense without being too wacko, Molina is just greasy enough to be creepy villainous without being pathologically demented, and Baruchel does this shambling, awkward, “aw shucks” routine that works because he wears the mantle of deadly-seriousness very lightly.
            In a summer filled with bloodletting violence, bloodsucking vampires, and bloodless parlor dramas, this film feels like a crowd-pleaser.
 
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” for 93.5 KICK-FM