Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Director : Mike Newell
Screenplay : Boaz Yakin and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard (screen story by Jordan Mechner)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : Jake Gyllenhaal (Dastan), Gemma Arterton (Tamina), Ben Kingsley (Nizam), Alfred Molina (Sheik Amar), Steve Toussaint (Seso), Toby Kebbell (Garsiv), Richard Coyle (Tus), Ronald Pickup (King Sharaman), Reece Ritchie (Bis), Gísli Örn Garðarsson (Hassansin Leader), Claudio Pacifico (Hassansin Porcupine), Thomas DuPont (Hassansin Whip Man), Dave Pope (Hassansin Giant Scimitar), Domonkos Pardanyi (Hassansin Double-Bladed Halberd), Massimilano Ubaldi (Hassansin Long Razor), Vladimir “Furdo” Furdik (Hassansin Grenade Man), Christopher Greet (Regent of Alamut)
No doubt hoping to replicate the immense success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney Pictures have teamed up for another dual-titled fantasy-actioneer, except instead of drawing inspiration from a theme park ride, they have gone the video game route, turning the much-heralded Prince of Persia series into the awkwardly titled Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. However, while Pirates (at least the first film) was unexpectedly entertaining and oddly endearing due to Johnny Depp’s supremely weird charisma as Captain Jack Sparrow, Prince of Persia falters atop the hunky, but ultimately dull shoulders of Jake Gyllenhaal, who has excelled in controversial dramas (2005’s Brokeback Mountain), stylish thrillers (2007’s Zodiac), and cult favorites (2001’s Donnie Darko), but has never anchored a would-be blockbuster (he did have a starring role in Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow in 2004, but it played to his strengths as a thoughtful underdog, rather than a beefcake action stud) . While a gifted actor with genuine range, Gyllenhaal’s sorrowful eyes and angular face don’t work with this overblown material, regardless of how chiseled his abs may be, and he winds up engulfed by the digital mayhem around him.
For those (like me) who are not familiar with video game series, no knowledge is required to follow the film’s plotting, although I suspect fans of the games will get more out of it. The story takes place during the seventh century when Persia was an empire spread across half the world, and the protagonist is Dastan (Gyllenhaal), the adopted son of the Persian King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup). After helping to invade and defeat the holy city of Alamut, which is suspected of forging weapons for Persia’s enemies, Dastan is framed for treason and finds himself on the run from his own brothers, Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell), who think him a traitor but may very well have been behind the deed of which Dastan is accused. Meanwhile, Dastan has come into possession of a magical dagger from Alamut that offers the holder of the weapon the ability to turn back time, although he suspects that it does much, much more, which is why the Princess of Alamut, the beautiful and fiery Tamina (Gemma Arterton), is so intent on getting it back from him. They forge an uneasy alliance as they cross all forms of intense desert landscapes, avoiding various treacherous enemies and dangers while seeking to clear Dastan’s name and keep the dagger from falling into the wrong hands.
British director Mike Newell, who recently directed Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), but is best known for his deft touch in character pieces like Donnie Brasco (1997) and offbeat comedies like Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), does his best to keep the film lively, but the screenplay by Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, and Carlo Bernard doesn’t give him much to work with outside of moving us from plot point to plot point and choreographing lots of bloodless mayhem. Unfortunately, this encourages Newell to overreach and fall prey to the temptations of unnecessary slow motion and impossible camera movements, each of which feels more desperate than exciting. One of the hallmarks of the video game series (so I’ve read) is the use of parkour, and there is plenty on display in the movie, but it’s all so obviously rigged and digitized that it loses any real sense of excitement and danger (compare, for example, the opening sequence in 2005’s Casino Royale, which used real parkour instead of green screens). We can only watch Gyllenhaal (or his digital double) executing impossible back flips off crumbling buildings in extreme slow motion from constantly spinning angles before the effect of all this ramped-up derring-do becomes decidedly silly and--even worse--boring. When cinematographer John Seale (The English Patient) is allowed to get out from under the digital yoke, the film has some truly breathtaking imagery courtesy of the Moroccan desert, and the fact that actual locations were used as extensively as they were is cause for some celebration.
When the action slows down, Gyllanhaal and Arterton do manage to generate some friction in their love-hate relationship, which provides a modicum of emotional investment for all the scheming and plotting and treachery in the story. We’re supposed to be on the edges of our seats wondering who is behind all the malfeasance, but anyone who has watched movies before will immediately find reason to suspect Nizam, the king’s brother, who is played by Ben Kingsley with a severe goatee, bald head, and eyeliner. With that kind of a look, there’s simply no way he isn’t somehow involved. The always reliable Alfred Molina does a scene-stealing turn as a seventh-century Tea Partier, a good/bad con artist who runs a secret ostrich racetrack out in the desert and becomes an important ally to Dastan, albeit one who spends more time railing about taxes and government conspiracies than actually doing anything constructive. (That is not the film’s only stab at contemporary politics and war-mongering since the story hinges entirely on an invasion necessitated by weapons that don’t actually exist.) Even with Molina’s gruff charms, though, Prince of Persia rarely rises above the mediocre, and its lack of even one truly memorable moment is testament to its prefabricated lack of inspiration.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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