Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Directed by Mike Newell. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell, Richard Coyle. (2010, PG-13, 116 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 28, 2010
What is Brit director Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) doing helming an epic, CGI-intensive, scimitar-propelled riff on 1001 Arabian Nights, one that's based on a video game, no less? He’s having a whale of a time, to all appearances, mining classic Hollywood swords-and-sandals tropes and allowing Kingsley, as a villainous schemer, to run wonderfully wild as he chomps his slinky way through all the non-computer-generated scenery in sight. Prince of Persia is by no means a great film, but it is an entertaining one, a nearly bloodless, family-friendly throwback of sorts to a cinematic age when Persian palace intrigue, winsome princesses, and ambitious princes ruled the back lots and Errol Flynn was in like, well, Errol Flynn. (It should be pointed out that Gyllenhaal, who is saddled here with a dodgy British accent and newborn heroic musculature, is no Flynn, but he's infinitely more fun to watch than, say, Russell Crowe's recent Robin Hood). Prince of Persia sports exactly the sort of convoluted, logic-free plotting we've come to expect from films based on gamer favorites, but that doesn't really hinder its ability to hold your attention and, occasionally, move you to the edge of your seat. The place is the Persian empire of old, and Gyllenhaal is Prince Dastan, a former street urchin with a knack for parkour, who was adopted by King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) and raised as a brother and an equal to his majesty's two legitimate princely heirs, Tus (Coyle) and Garsiv (Kebbell). Kingsley, with generously kohl-rimmed peepers, is their uncle and the king’s chief adviser, Nizam. After the Persian army's siege of the city of Alamut fails to turn up the proto-WMD that Nizam's spies swore were there – Newell lobs a few jokes in the direction of the Bush/Blair/Iraq debacle – the action kicks in with Dastan framed for a killing he didn't commit. He goes on the run with Alamut's sassy, game-for-anything Princess Tamina (former Bond girl Arterton) while trying to prove his innocence. Prince of Persia was produced by bloated action master Jerry Bruckheimer (a guilty pleasure of mine from way back), but the film's wittiest and most playful moments come from Molina as a desert entrepreneur with rusty scruples. (He fixes ostrich races and rails against taxation, government interference, and the plight of the “small businessman.") It's a hoot, and Molina very nearly steals the show. At times, the game-derived story threatens to topple from the sheer weight of exposition being delivered, but, this being a Bruckheimer production, you can count on massive, explosive set-pieces to arrive to divert imminent boredom and save the day. Just like Prince Dastan, master of his destiny and savior of kingdoms, but quite unlike Gyllenhaal's breakout role of Donnie Darko, who also had trouble with the proverbial sands of time. Sometimes destiny can be fickle that way; at least in Prince of Persia, it's a fun kind of fickle and thoroughly of the Saturday-afternoon-matinee variety.