Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 05/28/10 04:17:11

"Like watching someone else playing a videogame..."
3 stars (Just Average)

Summer doesn’t officially begin for another three weeks, but the summer blockbuster season is already three weeks old. Starting with "Iron Man 2" three weeks ago, the last two weeks have given us one blockbuster-wannabe after another (e.g., "Robin Hood," "Shrek Forever After") and now, über-producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest effects-driven action fantasy, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time." A loose adaptation of Jordan Mechner’s popular videogame of the same name, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" runs through a predictable, if superficially satisfying, series of computer-enhanced swordplay- and acrobatic-centered action pieces and romance (of the chaste, PG-13 variety).

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time centers on Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), the adopted son of a medieval Persian (a.k.a. Iranian) king, Sharaman (Ronald Pickup). Sharaman’s biological sons, Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell), and Sharaman’s brother, Nizam (Ben Kingsley), arrive at the gates of the sacred city of Alamut. Everyone gets a first name, but not a last name. Apparently, they didn’t have any in ancient Persia (a.k.a. Iran). According to a spy captured by Nizam, Alamut has a secret weapons forge and profits by selling weapons to the enemies of the Persian Empire. Despite third position among Sharaman’s son, Dastan defies Tus’ orders and slips inside the city ahead of Tus and Garsiv’s army, hoping to avoid or minimize the deaths that would result from a full-scale siege.

Dastan succeeds, winning a dagger in battle. Learning of his sons’ success, Sharaman arrives in Alamut, but falls prey to an assassin who poisons a sacred robe. Accused of murdering his father, Dastan escapes with an Alamut princess, Tamina (Gemma Arterton). Through her, he learns about the dagger’s unique nature: when filled with the “Sands of Time” (drawn from the “Hourglass of Time”), the holder can rewind time, but only by a minute. Attempting to clear his name and, later, return the dagger to its rightful place in Alamut, Dastan runs afoul of a desert trader and gambler, Sheik Amar (Alfred Molina), who, in what’s supposed to be modern twist, sounds like a member of the Tea Party (he hates paying taxes with unbridled passion).

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time has exactly zero narrative surprises., borrowing plot points from William Shakespeare’s Richard III and King Lear, but without the nuanced, multi-layered characters or poetic language. What passes for dialogue is either functional (i.e., expository) or meant to be humorous. With the exception of Jake Gyllenhaal’s faux-British accent, an accent Gyllenhaal presumably acquired to fit in with the mostly British cast, the attempts at comedy fail to hit their overbroad targets, even with a game, if ultimately, uninspired cast, regardless of how much they trained for their roles (Gyllenhaal) or how easy on the eyes they are (Arterton).

Guessing the villain’s identity doesn’t take much effort to figure out (it’s given away in online materials). Here’s one hint: you’ll know him the first moment he strides onscreen. Here's another hint: he's officially a "Sir". Here's a third and last hint: he's the only male character in the entire film with a shaved head. Nothing says villainy, at least on film, than a shaved head and facial hair (preferably a goatee). At least it’s a step up from mustache twirling, but not by much. His plan to seize power ends lacks imagination and inventiveness (and should fail on that aspect alone). Let’s just say it involves the Dagger of Time, the Sands of Time, and the Hourglass of Time.

Given the fantasy setting/videogame origin, the stereotypical depiction of medieval Persia, one in which Islam is never mentioned and other faiths, specifically Tamina’s, aren’t spelled out in any detail, isn’t surprising, at least not where a big-budget, summer release is concerned. She mentions “gods” in relation to the Sands of Time, so she’s obviously not a Muslim, but that’s as much information as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time gives us. Inserting a tax-obsessed character, Sheik Amar, who could be a mistaken for a modern-day member of the Tea Party provides Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time with some humor, but it’s jarring every time he makes an anti-tax comment.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time includes an abundance of action scenes, some, if not all, involving the wall-climbing acrobatics that helped to make the videogame popular among videogamers. To translate the game’s acrobatic gameplay to the big screen, Bruckheimer hired David Belle, a co-founder of parkour, the free-running sport that originated in France and then spread to Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States. Belle’s appeared in front of the camera in the District: B-13 films, but for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, he’s Gyllenhaal’s stunt stand-in, trainer, and stunt coordinator. But set pieces alone aren’t enough to elevate Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time above mediocrity.

Mike Newell ("Love in the Time of Cholera," "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," "Mona Lisa Smile," "Pushing Tin," "Donnie Brasco," "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Into the West," "Enchanted April," "Dance with a Stranger") delivers a competently directed film, but overuses CGI. Newell can’t resist beginning every new scene with a wide panorama of each city or location. Unfortunately, they never look less than fake. That might be forgivable (we’re seeing a medieval-set action-fantasy based on a videogame, after all), but the variable quality of the CGI isn’t. Newell’s animators ran into trouble whenever they had to combine live action with swirling dust or sand, a significant problem considering the desert setting for the "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time."

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