The Sorcerer's Apprentice is brought to you by the folks who created the National Treasure movies, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub, and you can imagine them having a meeting in which they said: Let's make a movie in the same vein only fizzier and dumber, even more kid-happy, with a lot more meaningless effects. In other words: Let's do a movie that makes the National Treasure films look sophisticated. You may think that I'm about to sneer, but I found the ticky-tacky, hocus-pocus foolishness of The Sorcerer's Apprentice appealing in a turn-off-your-frontal-lobes way. Watching the film, you don't have to pretend to care about rescuing the Declaration of Independence, and that's a relief.
You do, however, have to like Jay Baruchel, who might be described as the nerd's nerd (or, to put it a shade more charitably, lord of the dweebs). He plays Dave, a wayward NYU physics major chosen by fate to be ''the prime Merlinian'' a junior sorcerer whose destiny, should he embrace it, is to help a centuries-old wizard named Balthazar (Nicolas Cage). A protégé of the mighty Merlin, Balthazar is locked in battle over time with Merlin's two other, far nastier protégés. Baruchel has the skinny-faced eagerness of a hacker who lives on nutrition bars and Dr Pepper, but his key trait is his voice, which is so nasal and whiny and annoying he sounds like Wallace Shawn imitating Don Knotts. As Dave learns the ways of sorcery, you either find Baruchel so pathetic that he's unbearable or you wind up rooting for him, and I confess that he won me over. It helps that Cage, in a long leather coat and ringlets that look good on him (for once), is at his most charismatic, and that the CGI is spangly fun: lots of light balls gathered in the palms of hands, and a rampaging performance by the Wall Street bull sculpture. The Sorcerer's Apprentice is too long, and it's ersatz magic, but at least it casts an ersatz spell. B–