From “The Prince of Persia” to “The Last Airbender,” it seems like the summer of 2010 has produced an endless stream of mediocre - or worse - action films.
Now comes “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” the latest entry from Walt Disney into the summer pool. It’s an amiable enough film that is a rather disposable piece of entertainment. While I’m sure “Apprentice” will find an audience that appreciates its rather laid-back approach, the whole thing left me underwhelmed.
“Apprentice” tells the story of Dave (Jay Baruchel), an average guy who finds himself thrust into a battle between sorcerers Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) and Horvath (Alfred Molina) that dates back to the days of Merlin.
Dave reluctantly agrees to be Balthazar’s apprentice and help defeat his arch enemy, but the young man soon discovers he may in fact be the one key to stopping Horvath for good.
The film plays out like a cross between “Persia” and the “National Treasure” films (those happened to be financed by Disney as well). Cage and director Jon Turteltaub were also part of the latter films, and bring pretty much the same standard and predictable formula to this project.
There are plenty of action sequences, and some decent CGI effects that mostly consist of inanimate objects turning into animals, but there is really nothing that stands out. The closest moment comes during a chase sequence that has the heroes briefly trapped in an alternate universe.
The cast is fine as well, although Molina was a much better heavy in “Spider-Man 2” and Cage seemed to have had more fun in last year’s wildly uneven “The Bad Lieutenant.” To his credit, Cage does have nice chemistry with Baruchel, who continues to show potential as an unlikely leading man.
Teresa Palmer is also pretty good as Dave’s love interest.
Perhaps the biggest problem with “Apprentice” lies in the script - which is basically on autopilot from the opening scene. In my opinion, nothing is lazier than a film that has to rely on a lengthy prologue where a narrator has to set up the entire film and “Apprentice” not only does that, it adds another sequence before flashing forward to the actual story.
It’s a crippling blow for a film that is never able to recover from such a slow start - no matter how hard everyone in “Apprentice” tries. This isn’t a terrible film, but it’s probably one you can wait to arrive on cable before investing your time. Until then, just rewatch the “National Treasure” movies. You probably won’t be able to tell the difference.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Greenberg,” writer/director Noah Baumbach’s engaging romantic comedy that features one of the year’s most underappreciated performances.
“Greenberg” stars Ben Stiller as Roger Greenberg, a middle-aged New Yorker at the crossroads of his life who reluctantly agrees to house-sit for his brother in Los Angeles, looking to reconnect with old friends.
Instead, Roger finds himself drawn to his brother’s assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig), an aspiring singer who is also struggling to find solid ground in her life.
Any other film would go the easy route, with Roger and Florence quickly hooking up and discovering happiness. To Baumbach’s credit, “Greenberg” stays off the expected path and goes in a direction that is much more refreshing and honest.
Stiller is very good, giving a subdued and at times uncomfortable performance, as a bitter guy trying to atone for a wasted life.
But it is Gerwig who stands out in “Greenberg.” Florence is a young woman desperately searching for happiness, but can’t seem to make the right decisions. Her pain and struggle to find herself is perfectly conveyed in Gerwig’s very vulnerable performance.
Gerwig’s work reminded me a lot of Carey Mulligan’s breakout role in last year’s “An Education” - a performance that earned her an Oscar nomination. While I’m not expecting Gerwig to have a similar payoff, it would be justified - the young actress gives one of the best performances of 2010 to date.
“Greenberg” is rated R for some strong sexuality, drug use and language and is now available on DVD.