The opening of this film is about as cringe-worthy as it comes. After a ridiculously melodramatic, expositional prologue, we meet young Dave (at this stage played by Jake Cherry) who gets separated from his school group through a pretty thin and convenient twist of fate. He stumbles into the work shop of Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) who tells him he’s something called the Prime Merlinian and will do something terribly important and blah blah blah. Some bad stuff happens and Balthazar and Dave are separated for ten years. At about this point in proceedings, the average audience member is shoving stale popcorn kernels into their eyes, hoping to block some of the impact of any more smouldering, hands dramatically akimbo, ‘I’m a badass sorcerer’ stares from Cage. But then we meet Dave as a twenty-year-old Physics geek (now played by Jay Baruchel) and things take a definite turn for the better.
To say Baruchel carries this film would be a disservice. It would be more accurate to say that just as the bloated mass of soul-less, big budget, paint-by-numbers filmmaking starts to sink into an irredeemable mire, Jay shrugs his shoulders self-consciously before reaching down a single charismatic hand of rescue. He’s funny, he’s likeable, he sells some often quite poor dialogue and gives humanity to a difficult role. Hell, he even manages to reflect a little class back onto Nic. He’s a genuine nerd. Not in a Shia Lebouf quick quip on the run kinda way but a genuine geek and loveable for it. With his contribution, this film transforms. It’s fun, funny, exciting and extremely entertaining, with shades of a Neverending Story adventurous spirit. Wear the first twenty minutes with a grimace, then reap the rewards.