We’ve come to a point where we ask very, very, very little—and usually receive even less—from blockbusters: Wow us with a few cool-looking creatures and keep the bodily-function gags at tolerable levels. By those pitiful standards, this Disney-sponsored mediocrity—about a wizard (Cage) and his reluctant ward (Baruchel) who must, naturally, save the world from evil—succeeds. You get to see both a Chrysler Building’s Art Deco eagle and the Bowling Green Bull come to life and wreak havoc, in all their computer-generated glory. (Neato!) There’s only one flatulent-dog joke, and the ol’ plasma-bolt-to-the-crotch gag is, mercifully, not milked. (Thanks!) You won’t fall asleep before the credits or feel dirty afterward, unlike with some other big-budget megillahs this season. (We’re looking at you, Knight and Day.) It whizzes by more quickly than you can say “Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer,” while also being magically devoid of anything resembling character, originality or distinction.
Journeyman director Jon Turteltaub does to boy-conjurer flicks what he did to Indiana Jones adventures with the National Treasure franchise, boiling things down to their bare genre essence, while buffing the borrowed elements to a blinding sheen. Everything from the baritone voiceover (“The wars of sorcerers have been fought throughout history!”) to Cage’s swarthy Obi-Wan-on-ludes act screams autopilot; even a nod to the famous Fantasia segment feels halfhearted. Other than the Pottersploitation and presence of current It nerd Baruchel, this fantasy-action-comedy might have been spat out into multiplexes any summer over the previous two decades, yet it would seem like forgettable abracadabra filler regardless of the date.—David Fear
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