May 27, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

If we disguise ourselves, maybe they won't
notice we're in this movie

Grade: C

Director: Mike Newell

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, and Alfred Molina

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

The cinematic embodiment of an Arabic-themed amusement park ride, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time filters its original video game conceit through the prism of a monkey’s typewriter. Slap on lots of loud noise and blurry CGI, and you have a mindless light-and-sound show with just enough slapdash political allegory to offend both your senses and sensibilities.

A brawny but miscast Jake Gyllenhaal plays adopted Persian Prince Dastan, who teams with his half-brothers to invade the ancient holy city of Alamut after they suspect it is manufacturing and supplying Persia’s enemies with arrows of mass destruction. However, once the shock and awe of their invasion settles, no armaments are found. After an assassin kills kindly King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) using a poisonous prayer robe (you know, that old trick…), Dastan is framed for the murder and goes on the lam with a supernatural, sand-filled dagger and Alamut’s Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton, beautiful but essentially already reprising her same role from Clash of the Titans) in tow.

There is some half-witted garble about whether to bring Dastan back to Persia for trial or secret him away for life in some antediluvian Gitmo. Evil Uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) employs a snake-handling private security firm to carry out his dastardly black ops. And, for good measure, toss in Sheik Amar (Alfred Molina, giving his all) as a Tea Partier before his time, moaning about how tax-and-spend big government cramps his underground ostrich racing business. Put it all together and you have Jerry Bruckheimer’s Disneyfied Iraq War apology. Not only doesn’t Prince of Persia possess the courage of its cockeyed convictions, but it insultingly (agit)props them up as a lazy backdrop for a one-dimensional storyline.

To help Dastan in the quest to clear his name and save the kingdom, there is an easy button on the mystic dagger’s hilt that when pushed turns back the clock about a minute or so, unbeknownst to everyone except the dagger’s bearer. The button also conjures silly special effects and endless mugging by Kingsley. By the time the penultimate finale arrives inside a cave filled with golden light that reboots that the story back to its beginning, you will feel like you’ve been teleported back to the final season of Lost.

The only perplexing puzzle the film posits is why Gyllenhaal adopts an English accent that is no less incongruous to the film’s setting than his native American brogue. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the hours you will waste watching Prince of Persia.

Neil Morris

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