Movie Review: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time would have been a lot more interesting had it bothered to even casually mention how a painfully white boy winds up becoming an orphan in the heart of the Persian empire. Not that there’s anything wrong with the decision to cast Jake Gyllenhaal as a Persian prince, but the words “You are truly a prince of Persia” are uttered so many times that it seems like the movie itself is trying to convince itself that it didn’t make a ridiculous error of judgment.
So this is a movie where an American takes on a British accent, takes up a sword, and saves a bunch of white and brownish people with real British accents from the mad plot of another brown dude with a British accent and an Academy Award. What else is new? Based on a video game? Seen those. CGI special effects? Yawn, though it’s interesting that Disney didn’t go 3D on this one, as some shots suggest they wanted to. Wicked cool MacGuffin? The Dagger of Time is useful in the video game for solving puzzles and advancing the plot, but here it is a cheap toy that, once activated, sends the user hurtling back sixty seconds in time with a helpless, confused look on his face.
Given the applause at the end of the preview screening I went to, there will be an audience that sees this movie and enjoys it because this generation has been raised on choppily done action scenes, piecemeal screenplays, and leading man performances that don’t go far beyond displaying the basic emotions Happy and Sad, but the most fun I had with Prince of Persia was naming the movies that this one borrowed from. Inexplicably, unless this being a Disney movie set in the desert is explanation enough, there’s a castle that looks just like the one from Aladdin. It pops up once and disappears, but the titular Prince of Persia (and a true prince of Persia he is) runs through rooftops, battles incompetent imperial forces, fights against a treacherous adviser to the king, and slides down a tidal wave of sand just like Aladdin did. He visits a city that looks like Minas Tirith from Lord of the Rings, where he meets a Princess with whom he shares a relationship that, while lukewarm at best, resembles the one between Han Solo and Leia. In a desert outpost not unlike Mos Eisley, he meets an outlaw and his bodyguard, who owes his patron a life debt. Their relationship is, depending on the circumstance, like the one between Solo and Chewbacca or the one between Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in Rush Hour. Believe it or not, there is even an echo of this scene in what was supposed to be a dramatic, climactic showdown over the dagger:
The film leans heavily on the performances turned in by Alfred Molina, a government-hating, tax-evading bookie, and Ben Kingsley, the king’s brother, trusted adviser, and Persia’s number one consumer of guyliner. He’s also the villian. If that’s a spoiler, I’m sorry, but you can’t spell “Nizam” without “Nazi,” which, guyliner aside, is a dead giveaway, right? Kingsley and Molina do their expected good work and stay out of the way of much of the CGI and sword fighting. That stuff is left to Gyllenhaal, who wasn’t made for this sort of thing. Everything he says, from Schwarzenegger-like one-liners to George Lucas’ awkward, swashbuckling romance-style cheese, comes off as forced. I like Gyllenhaal a lot, but here’s he is like a blank slate, and everybody has forgotten what to write on it.
There is also a heavy reliance on the relationship between the prince and the princess, but that’s all stilted, painful dialog and dreadful near-kisses that might have flown in the 2003 video game but made it into 2010 without even a modest upgrade. I could and would ramble on about how much I hated the cinematography, the color scheme, the choppy fight scenes, the incredibly unnecessary loudness of the film’s sound, and the bizarre insistence that nearly every scene be introduced by showing a character standing before an awe-inspiring backdrop, but that’s a much longer, much whinier conversation to be had on basically the whole gamut of Jerry Bruckheimer produced films and television shows, which are so obsessed with being cute, clever, and whip smart that they fail to register as the adventures of anything remotely human. Bruckheimer’s worlds are stitched together from clichés and stock characters. His movies roll out endlessly and hit theatres like waves pound the shore, but, like waves, they recede in a way that is usually harmless: Repeated airings on basic cable, skipped over and lost in (the sands of) time.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Directed by Mike Newell. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Dastan), Gemma Arterson (Tamina), Ben Kingsley (Nizam), and Alfred Molina (Sheik Amar). Released May 28, 2010, by Walt Disney Pictures.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.