Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) / Action-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence
Running time: 116 min.
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Steve Toussaint, Toby Kebbell, Richard Coyle, Ronald Pickup, Reece Ritchie
Director: Mike Newell
Screenplay: Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard (based on the video game series by Jordan Mechner)
Review published October 1, 2010
Chalk up another in the already voluminous list of video game adaptations that result in terrible movies. Oddly enough, Prince of Persia doesn't fail due to that which usually culminates in gamer flicks unleashed into theaters DOA (too little story and too much noise). This one takes it too far in the opposite direction, by having too many characters talk and talk and talk, explaining pretty much everything they see, think or feel out loud to each other, belaboring to expound on moments of the plot repeatedly to the point where you just wish it had just been the mind-numbingly obtuse actioner you were expecting.
Sometime in the 6th Century (well, a fantasy version of it anyway), an orphan named Dastan (Gyllenhaal, Jarhead) is adopted by the goodly King Sharaman (Pickup, The Mission) and raised no different than those princes of royal blood. He finds himself a fugitive in his early adult years after Sharaman is viciously murdered and Dastan is set up as the culprit. His path leads him to eventually come to possess the "Dagger of Time" which has a push button that activates magic sand that allows its holder to shift time backwards to re-live events and change the outcome without anyone else becoming aware of it.
"Prince of Persia", the computer game (ported to consoles as well), is popular enough to have generated sequels, but it has never been what anyone might call a phenomenon, or even a large and avid fan base. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer (National Treasure 2, POTC 3), who garnered financial success in seeing the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride become a franchise, attempts to dig from the same mine, not due to its popularity, but because he thinks that the swashbuckling swordplay, bantering romance, and fantasy elements that he's had success with in the past are what people want to see.
He's partially right, as there is indeed a market for it, but not when it plays as if the audience is full of imbeciles needing persistent commentary and explanations of every development. The Pirates series offered very little in terms of a cohesive story and even less in the way of explanations, to its detriment, while Prince may not have even one scene in which someone jabbers on about what he's done, what's going on now, and what's he's going to do, rather than just showing it. While there is a back story to the games that carries throughout, most people played them because they had good action, and this action came often, whereas the film version handles neither aspect well.
Mike Newell (Harry Potter 4, Mona Lisa Smile) directs action sequences as if he knows there just aren't enough of them, engaging is a multitude of slow motion shots that do beef it the run time potraying them, but they crawl to the point where they become agonizing. Instead of a button to rewind events, audiences might have wished for a fast-forward button so they wouldn't have to live through them once. He does capture the running and jumping, parkour style, from rooftop to rooftop portion of the game, almost slavishly. If you have any knowledge of the game whatsoever, you know exactly when a big action sequence is going to take place -- whenever Dastan comes to a new environs that has rooftops or ledges of various heights.
The "Dagger of Time" aspect is the film's worst element, and really, it is supposed to be the coolest. Having to relive scenes that weren't exciting the first time an additional two or three times is tedious when it should have filled us with marvel. Like a video game, where a death of your character often results in restarting from the beginning of a level or last save point until you get it right, doing this in a movie isn't quite the same. We don't have the feeling of accomplishment that traversing a difficult challenge on our own results in, watching someone re-enact key moments knowing he will eventually figure it out to work in his favor.
Long on plot, scant on actual story, Prince of Persia has few basic pleasures other than its visual appeal to appease most audiences. British accents (real and phony) are a mystery, an overly-toned Jake Gyllenhaal sports tepid charisma, and far more talking heads than should ever appear in an action movie that aims squarely at young boys are just a few of the many conceptual blunders made by the think tank that produced this attempt at a new franchise, The film can't break out of its own bland clichés, trite stereotypes, and slavishly dumbed-down dialogue to emerge as something fresh, original, daring, or compelling. A few minutes in and you might begin wish for a Dagger of Time -- to travel back to the point when contemplating the decision to give this cheesy snoozer a go.
©2010 Vince Leo