Review: 'Prince of Persia'
As we await the eventual arrival of 'Donkey Kong: The Musical!' -- which surely must be coming someday, right? -- yet another movie based on a video game, 'Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time', arrives in theaters.
Now as this genre goes, 'Prince of Persia' doesn't have the shoddy appearance of, say, 'Alone in the Dark' or 'House of the Dead' or any number of films from the infamous German director, Uwe Boll. No, this is a Jerry Bruckheimer production, so it looks cheesy in the kind of monster-budget way you can only achieve through copious amounts of computer-generated imagery. There's nothing terribly memorable about 'Prince of Persia'; recalling the plot a half-hour afterward might require some effort.
Somewhere beneath all the fake, glossy effects -- which in no way suggest anything even remotely resembling a tangible reality -- there must be a story and characters and, you know, acting. Jake Gyllenhaal, as our courageous and resourceful hero, Dastan, always has an engaging presence about him -- those big, blue eyes, that goofy smile -- and that sweetness helps keep the mood light when 'Prince of Persia' threatens to take itself too seriously.
Gyllenhaal has been to the gym, clearly, and he learned Parkour to perform some of his own stunts, leaping across walls and over rooftops and camelbacks with the agility of, well, a video-game character. It may seem like a weird fit for an actor whose filmography includes 'Brokeback Mountain', 'The Good Girl' and 'Donnie Darko', but perhaps because he's not a traditional action star, his performance ends up being more intriguing than what you might get from a Hugh Jackman or a Gerard Butler.
He also has some nice, snappy, old-Hollywood-adventure-style banter with Gemma Arterton as the feisty Princess Tamina, with whom his character teams up to protect an ancient dagger that contains powerful sand which allows the possessor to reverse time. Or something. Dastan leads an attack on her city, Alamut, at the film's start, believing there are weapons being hidden there for supply to Persia's enemies. This should sound familiar to you.
While 'Prince of Persia' doesn't try to replicate the sensation of playing a video game, as so many of its predecessors did, its structure is undeniably episodic.
As Dastan vanquishes one foe after another in 6th century Persia, it feels like we're watching him climb from one level to the next, with each challenge increasing in difficulty.
Mike Newell directed the film from a script by Boaz Yakin and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard, based on the video game Jordan Mechner created back in 1989. This also might seem like an unusual fit for Newell, director of such eclectic movies as 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' and 'Donnie Brasco'. But Newell also made the fourth Harry Potter picture, the high-tech enormity of which was probably good preparation for this.
And 'Prince of Persia' does have its fleeting moments of swashbuckling fun. Dastan and Tamina must hang onto the dagger -- which Dastan sometimes carries in the front of his pants, the handle sticking out in an obviously phallic manner -- to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. He's on the run, having been framed for the murder of his father, King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup), the man who found in him the streets as an orphan boy and raised him alongside his own biological sons, Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell).
Dastan's uncle, Nizam (a deliriously over-the-top Ben Kingsley), also has served as a father figure to him. Now, Dastan has no idea whom to trust anymore. Alfred Molina is at first an enemy, but eventually provides some guidance (and some comic relief), as a sheikh whose true passion is ostrich racing.
But any goodwill the performances may have engendered gets obliterated by the climactic ending, a noisy, garish, swirling spectacle of sand and light and screaming. It's enough to make you want to hit the reset button.
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