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THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE review; the definiton of an average blockbuster

rating: 3

Jerry Bruckheimer€™s association with Disney has been a profitable one. Once the output of the powerful blockbuster producer could be typified by the high-octane likes of Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop and Con Air, but over the last decade, under the Walt Disney Pictures brand, he has taken to specialising in more family-orientated fare. This new direction peaked with the wildly successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and the two National Treasure movies, all of which grossed hundreds of millions of dollars at the international box office. Last year the talking-guinea pig movie G-Force reaped similar rewards for Disney and Bruckheimer and it seemed the partnership was infallible. But 2010 has been an uncustomary rocky ride for the Michigan-born mogul. First a cynical attempt to recreate the Pirates franchise (albeit in different period dress) backfired as the video game adaptation Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time failed to capture the imagination of audiences. It eventually managed to recoup its inflated production budget but fell well way short of Disney€™s expectations as a big summer tentpole movie. The Mike Newell directed film was part of planned series, but sequels seem unlikely. And now The Sorcerer€™s Apprentice, directed by National Treasure helmer Jon Turteltaub and boasting that series€™s star Nicolas Cage, has experienced a similar lack of enthusiasm and commercial success in its domestic market €“ struggling to make an impact after opening at number three in the American box office in July. Obsessed with Film found Prince of Persia wholly unspectacular back in April, awarding it two and a half stars and The Sorcerer€™s Apprentice €“ which is very loosely based on the short from Fantasia which bares the same name €“ doesn€™t fare much better. Like Prince of Persia, it is pretty much the definition of average. The special effects are up to the expected standard but offer nothing new. The direction is coherent, if uninspiring. The performers go through the motions playing to type, never embarrassing themselves but hardly breaking into a sweat either. Nicolas Cage is required to be hyper-intense as the sorcerer and Monica Bellucci is tasked with being beautiful as his love interest, whilst Alfred Molina is an endearing comic rogue and Jay Baruchel is ever the loveable schlemiel as the title character. The film has presumably been test screened to reach optimum levels of inoffensiveness. Take the kids, take gran: it€™s all good clean fun in this Disney adventure. There isn€™t even the usual American dream element here to irritate you. It is conventional, with a €œbelieve in yourself€ moral, but Baruchel and Teresa Palmer (who plays his love interest) are pleasant and actually fairly sweet together, the end result being that you never want to bash either of them over the head with a large stick. Nor does the film treat its young audience members as though they are afflicted with a limited attention span. There is still some clumsy exposition, but generally you are told things and trusted to remember them, with less repetition than many recent films aimed at adults, including Inception and The A-Team (probably the worst offender). Overall, The Sorcerer€™s Apprentice is a marginally better film than Prince of Persia and a slightly more enjoyable one. It is less full of plot holes and there are a few genuine laughs €“ most of them provided by Baruchel who demonstrates he is a solid comic performer. Some of the set-pieces are quite inventive - the best probably being a car chase involving mirrors - and one scene serves as an affectionate and welcome nod to the original animated short, as the apprentice struggles to control the mops he has recruited to help clean his workshop. But all in all the only reason you should go to see this movie is if you€™re taking the kids on a rainy day, and even then, only if they have already seen Toy Story 3 and The Karate Kid. There is nothing to hate here: unless the thought of another average, soulless, empty shell of a summer movie makes your blood boil. But really what we have been presented with is something which deserves indifference rather than outright disapproval. It remains to be seen how The Sorcerer€™s Apprentice will perform internationally, but it seems unlikely that its European release will see it become the barnstorming runaway hit Disney and Bruckheimer had hoped it might. But as 2011 returns the partnership to more familiar (and more profitable) territory, with the latest instalments in the Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure franchises scheduled for release next summer, the outlook appears brighter. Perhaps 2010 has been a blip and an exception to the rule rather than proof that the sky is falling down at Bruckheimer Films. But whatever he has lined up for 2012: the veteran producer will have to ensure it is better than this. The Sorcerer's Apprentice opens on Friday in the U.K.
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A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, GamesIndustry.biz and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.