Prince of Persia The Sands of Time, 2010
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Reece Ritchie, Alfred Molina
Based on the video game, which follows an adventurous prince who teams up with a rival princess to stop an angry ruler from unleashing a sandstorm that could destroy the world.
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Someday someone is going to make a truly great film from a video game, proving that is just as potent a source of material as any novel or play. Until then we just have to be satisfied with being decently entertained without being hopelessly insulted. Mike Newell's "Prince of Persia" manages to avoid doing either to any great degree, so the wait continues.
Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is maybe the perfect prince. A beggar adopted from the street by a Persian king (Ronald Pickup) he has no claim to the throne and thus no eye on it, preferring just back up his brothers Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell). But when he helps them conquer the innocent kingdom of Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) he starts to realize he has a greater responsibility than to be a good son and the only chance he has to do something about it is a magic dagger that can actually rewind time itself.
"Prince of Persia" wants very much to be one of the light, throwaway adventure films producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Pirates of the Caribbean") has become so adept at producing. It's hard to mess that particular formula up unless you just have no idea what you're doing, but it's also hard to make it do anything more than fleeting entertainment. What you get most of the time solidly middling, and "Prince of Persia" is as middling as they get.
To be fair it's a stiff challenge to begin with, turning a video game into an actual narrative. Even though they've been around long enough now that parents are as likely to be buying a new game for themselves as for their kids, most games tend to be extremely shallow. A lot of them are still exploring depth through the means of bloodshed and swearing with all the glee of kids who just found their dads collection of pornography.
So you've got some pretty light material, but they may be a blessing. It gives the filmmakers leeway to shape the story how they want, given a director and screenwriters of enough vision. Newell ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") has proven himself as a director of actors who knows how to tell a story and with "Harry Potter" he's shown he can handle an adventure story without losing sight of those particular strengths.
But "Prince of Persia" isn't interested in any of those things. All it cares about is acrobatic fighting and an attempt at Hepburn/Tracy style bickering romance between Dastan and Tamina. There's nothing wrong with a little light entertainment as long as it's done well, but "Prince of Persia" can't quite make it to those heights.
The fight scenes are decently put together but are marred by some terrible compositing that leaves a lot of the effects sequences looking more than a little fake, and the screenplay isn't up to the sparkling dialog a combative relationship needs to work. Dastan and Tamina don't sound like quibbling would-be lovers, they sound like jerks who genuinely don't like each other. Of course I could have just been distracted from the films merits by Gyllenhaal's horrendous wig and the monumental levels of spray on bronzer on display. Truly, not since the heyday of the 1950s have so many pasty white guys been cast to play Persians.
There are some moments of real inventiveness on display, particularly once Alfred Molina's land pirate of a sheik shows up with his ostrich races and knife throwing bodyguard. A little bit of Amar goes a long way and by the end he's worn quite thin, but for a little while he genuinely brightens "Prince of Persia's" day.
He can't quite balance out the blandness of Ben Kingsley's Nizam. Adventure movies need really strong villains to work, and anyone who's seen "Sexy Beast" knows Kingsley can pull one off with the right material. But he's absolutely wasted on "Prince of Persia." Nizam is cowers and plots and lets others do his dirty work. He's not up to snuff and he brings the whole film down with him.
Despite its flaws, "Prince of Persia" is adequate. It doesn't have the imagination or the skill to be the light hearted escape it wants to be, but it has its moments far apart as they may be. If I had it to do over again, I don't think I'd sit through it a second time, though.