GENRE: Contemporary action fantasy
THE PITCH: Harry Pott- I mean, Percy Jacks- that is, Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), a college physics prodigy, learns to tap his magic powers as an heir to Merlin's legacy with the help of strung-out sorcerer, Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage). But can Dave reach his potential before nasty wizard Horvath (Alfred Molina) releases super-evil Morgana La Fey (Alice Krige) from an enchanted nesting doll?
MONEY SHOTS: A flood of roaches reform themselves as Horvath. Dave's dresser comes flying to join the heroes on a deck of the Chrysler Building. A Chinese parade dragon turns real. When Balthazar explains that a huge book contains the entirety of magic history, he reveals a picture of Dave's screaming face from an earlier scene. Electrical sockets cry in horror in a flooding lab. The heroes drive into a falling mirror before it shatters.
OFF ON THE WRONG FOOT: A prologue set in Britain, 740 A.D. begins the film with a hilariously incoherent shambles that's worse than anything in The Last Airbender. It improves once Cage meets Baruchel.
BEST LINE: "In certain parts of the Tri-State area, they still refer to a nervous breakdown as a 'David Stutler,'" Dave complains about how a magical middle school incident ruined his reputation.
WORST LINE: "We are but servants." Huh-huh, he said "butt servants."
FASHION STATEMENTS: Balthazar has a battered, broad-brimmed hat, dark duster and pin-striped waistcoat, like he's en route to a steampunk convention. He also wears pointy "old-man shoes" and insists that Dave do likewise, because they help with magic. Criss Angel's illusionist career and hipster wardrobe inspires Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell), Horvath's apprentice.
BODY COUNT: Three or four, counting some near-death fake outs. Most fight scenes involve "plasma bolts" and other shiny, basically harmless magic effects, although some characters die off camera.
POP REFERENCES: The whole film draws inspiration from Mickey Mouse's "Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence from Fantasia, which gets restaged in a clunky fashion. Young Dave has a Buzz Lightyear alarm clock. Young Dave impresses his middle school sweatheart with a King Kong doodle. A special effect of wizards traveling in smoking columns looks exactly like the "apparate" scenes from Harry Potter — what a coincidence!
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: Dave's farting, weak-bladdered dog appears sporadically in the film, and accompanies the heroes on a car chase for no reason. Balthazar alludes to a spell that can combine a person's spirit with the dog, but we never see it — perhaps there was a reshoot?
RETIRE THIS CLICHÉ: Ever hear the one about the average Joe who discovers he's chosen to be humanity's savior, in fulfillment of ancient prophesies? Overuse is really watering down this time-honored storytelling device. Besides, if the hero really is the all-powerful "Prime Merlinian," or the One, or the Kwisach Haderach, doesn't that make his final victory a foregone conclusion?
SOUNDTRACK HITS: Jimmy Eat World's once-ubiquitous "The Middle" introduces the film in modern time. Dave's would-be girlfriend (Teresa Palmer) works for the college radio station and subsequently fills out the soundtrack with pop songs. Unfortunately, Paul Dukas' original "Sorcerer's Apprentice" gets an annoying remix.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Sorcerer's Apprentice conjures some mild entertainment value from the most familiar and disposable material imaginable. Compared to most Harry Potter-type knockoffs (but not the Hogwarts films themselves), The Sorcerer's Apprentice features two lively lead actors and some reasonably clever, well-executed special effects gags. There are worse ways to make $10 and two hours of your life disappear.