The primary fear with a movie like Prince of Persia: The Sand of Time, other than the fact that it’s another film based on a video game, is that it will take itself too seriously. Nothing can sink a would-be summer diversion more than self-importance, and while Prince of Persia teases us for awhile with it, fortunately the film comes out on top as a completely disposable popcorn flick. This time of year and with this kind of material, that’s a victory.
The plot is pretty hazy and really nothing more than an excuse to stage elaborate action sequences in ancient Persia, but here it goes. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Creed’s Scott Stapp, or rather Prince Dastan. He has near-supernatural fighting skills and has proven a worthy safeguard for his community since a very young age. When he acquires a mysterious dagger with the power to reverse time, it’s not long before the darker forces in the region are after him. Teamed with a rival princess (Arterton), the two try to safeguard the dagger until they can return it to its rightful origin.
The plot is a whole lot of nonsense that only occasionally makes sense. Where the film delivers is in some impressive action scenes and the confirmation, with the introduction of the Alfred Molina character, that’s really just out to have fun. Director Mike Newell toes the line of staging some entertaining adventure scenes while simultaneously keeping the spirit of the video game alive. Effective comic relief comes as the hand of Molina, who has some of the better comedic dialogue and delivery that I’ve heard this year (“did you know ostriches have suicidal tendencies? I have to keep an eye on her day and night to make sure she doesn’t do something stupid!”) The action is aplenty and the visual effects are serviceable, if underwhelming.
Jake Gyllenhaal doesn’t make for a very engaging hero, and probably has the worst accent since Nic Cage in Con Air. On the bright side, he has bulked up and the image stone-faced image actually plays into the film’s hands. Gemma Arterton, she of Quantum of Solace fame, makes for an attractive princess, but as a foil for Dastan she’s not quite up to snuff. Alfred Molina is the show-stopper in every scene he appears, and you’ll recall his lines of dialogue long before any of the film’s plot.
Amazing what a difference tone can make. Had Prince of Persia tried to tell a bald-faced, self-serious story of time travel in ancient times, it would have been disastrous. With a light tone and fast-paced action, it succeeds at what it’s going for. This is in-one-ear-out-the-other kind of stuff, but it will get the job done as an air-conditioned refuge from the summer heat.
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Length: 116 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.
Theatrical Release: May 28, 2010
Directed by: Mike Newell
Written by: Boaz Yakin & Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard. Based upon the video game series and screen story by Jordan Mechner.
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Steve Toussaint