Back in the Arthurian day, Balthazar and Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina), a fellow disciple, both wooed sister disciple Veronica (Monica Bellucci). Balthazar won her heart. So the jilted Maxim joined forces with unscrupulous sorceress Morgana Le Fay (Alice Krige) to unleash hell on earth.
Why would this battle between good and evil play out in contemporary Manhattan? It has something to do with the possibility that the Prime Merlinean is an NYU physics nerd, the helium-voiced Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel). And maybe with the fact that the souls of Merlin's disciples are imprisoned inside vessels (nesting dolls, amphoras) and are unsprung in New York.
Stringy-haired, bleary-eyed, and genially unstrung, Cage's Balthazar resembles 1950s-era Howard Hughes in a cowhide trenchcoat. If Balthazar needs to get somewhere fast, he saddles up a gargoyle on the Chrysler Building and brings it to life. Finally, his performance is as generic as the special effects. Cage hasn't lost his edge. But here he's PG, not edgy.
Baruchel, the wiry, shock-haired actor of She's Out of My League, charms in the title role, putting his own spin on perfunctory dialogue. His eyebrows look like twin question marks, lending him a comically quizzical look that translates, "Am I really expected to do a live-action version of Mickey Mouse's dance with the overzealous brooms from Fantasia?"
The answer is yes. Baruchel's Dave has a hot date with the obligatory Bruckheimer blonde, Becky (Teresa Palmer), and needs to tidy his squalid laboratory/apartment before she arrives. So, he uses his newly discovered powers to order the brooms to do the dishes and floors.
Like the rest of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, this sequence is familiar and mildly amusing. It also serves to justify the film's title. In its part and on the whole, the movie is more Cheez Whiz than wizardly.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/