It isn't a Jerry Bruckheimer production if the movie doesn't hit the ground running, and sure enough, The Sorcerer's Apprentice (** out of four) gets off to a frantic start with a whirlwind sequence in which reams of centuries-old back story and endless exposition are dumped on the audience's collective head in order to quickly let the modern-day bulk of the movie commence. But as is often the case with the punishing producer, the prologue is so loud and frenzied and chaotic that I was ready to leave upon its conclusion, feeling as if I had already sat through an entire movie's worth of bruising behavior.
This penchant for creating faux-excitement simply by making everything blaring and calamitous is a specialty not only of Bruckheimer but also director Jon Turteltaub, who previously gave us two daft National Treasure movies (if you somehow haven't seen that pair, they're like 6th-grade versions of Raiders of the Lost Ark). This is basically more of the same, although unlike that twofer, this at least has the decency to clock in at under two hours.
Nicolas Cage is miscast as Balthazar Blake, one of Merlin's original disciples(!) who turns up in modern-day New York City after countless centuries searching for the Prime Merlinian (not to be confused with the Prime Meridian or even Optimus Prime), a novice wizard expected to eventually be about as powerful as Merlin was back in the millennium. Balthazar discovers that a geeky college kid named Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel, last heard training a dragon) is the object of his search, and he hopes that after providing the proper tutelage, Dave will be able to help him fight off another Merlin disciple: Maxim Horvarth (Alfred Molina), the Judas to Balthazar's John.
Inspired in part by the delightful Mickey Mouse sequence from Disney's 1940 Fantasia (there's even a scene in which Dave battles dancing mops), The Sorcerer's Apprentice is strictly standard action-fantasy fare, not too bad as these Bruckheimer boom boxes go. There's some clever CGI trickery mixed in with the more lackluster effects, Baruchel is appealing in his limited way, and the jackhammer pace ensures that there's no time to get bored. But is any of it memorable? Hardly. I remember the contours of my theater seat better than I recall the particulars of this cinematic sleight of hand.