May 26, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

ADVENTURE:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-05-28

Running Length:

1:49

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Sexual Content)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell, Richard Coyle, Ronald Pickup, Gisli Orn Garoarsson

Director:

Mike Newell

Screenplay:

Boaz Yakin and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard

Cinematography:

John Seale

Music:

Harry Gregson-Williams

U.S. Distributor:

Walt Disney Pictures

Subtitles:

none


In the wake of a successful endeavor to transform a popular Disney theme park attraction (Pirates of the Caribbean) into a motion picture blockbuster, uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer has now turned his attention to a well-received video game series, Prince of Persia. With Mike Newell at the helm, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a lively, action-oriented romp through ancient lands that bear a suspicious resemblance to the animated environs of Disney's Aladdin. The movie is as fast-paced as it is ultimately pointless - a lot of running around that results in no gain. One of the problems with the injudicious use of time travel is that it provides the screenwriters with ample opportunities to cheat (there's no such thing as writing oneself into a corner), and that's precisely what happens here. Prince of Persia is unsatisfying because of the way it gets to the ending.

All of the action and mayhem is designed to distract the viewer from the realization that a lot of what transpires during the course of this movie makes little sense. Basic logic - like the lack of a motive for a key murder - is ignored in favor of keeping the narrative moving. It's on a treadmill, but Newell is almost skilled enough to make that not matter until the "cheat" occurs and we're left feeling that Prince of Persia could have been a lot shorter (not that 109 minutes is too long for a summer movie). Newell also pays homage to the film's video game origins. Gamers will find a lot of the jumping, climbing, swinging, and other maneuvers employed by the characters to be familiar. Of course, it's a lot more fun to play a game than it is to watch one being played, and this applies here, as well.

The story takes place in ancient Persia, which is ruled by King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup). He has four trusted advisors: his brother, Nizam (Ben Kingsley); his eldest son and heir, Tus (Richard Coyle); his second son, Garsiv (Tony Kebbell); and his adopted son, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal). After the Persian army, led by Tus, invades a holy city and takes captive the princess, Tamina (Gemma Arterton, showing more spunk than in the Clash of the Titans remake), Sharaman arrives with words of reprimand. The king decides to betroth Tamina to Dastan, but before the proclamation can be made official, Sharaman is murdered and suspicion falls upon Dastan. He and Tamina flee, uneasy allies in a quest to prove Dastan's innocence, reveal the true killer, and keep a mystical dagger with time-travel powers from falling into corrupt hands.

The film's marketing campaign is highlighting connections with Pirates of the Caribbean and, despite the influence of a different director, the look and pacing are not dissimilar, although one could as easily compare Prince of Persia with Stephen Sommers' The Mummy. However, although Jake Gyllenhaal is a competent actor and his scenes with Gemma Arterton set off sparks, it doesn't take much searching to identify the missing ingredient: Johnny Depp. Pirates of the Caribbean would have been a far less jolly adventure had it focused solely on Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, and that's a little like the dynamic here. While there's plenty of chemistry between Gyllenhaal's Darstan and Arterton's Tamina (comparable to what exists between Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in The Mummy), the real standout is Alfred Molina, hamming it up as a desert entrepreneur who races ostriches and avoids paying taxes. It's a stock character, but portrayed with considerable verve, although not on Depp's level. Ben Kingsley, slumming as he is wont to do from time-to-time, is entertaining, although his portrayal seems uncannily like an audition for Ming the Merciless in a new version of Flash Gordon.

Prince of Persia falls into the ever-popular category of summer cinema which was best described by Shakespeare as "sound and fury, signifying nothing." It looks impressive (all the more so because no one forced a 3-D conversion) and there's never a dull moment. Newell understands the dynamics and rhythm of a big-budget fantasy adventure, having already taken the reins for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so he crafts something eminently watchable. But, in large part because of extreme narrative deficiencies, it's hard to see Prince of Persia as anything more substantive than drive-in fare. With lots of running around and plenty of special effects, the only thing missing for the viewer is a game controller and the ability to replay some of the most challenging moves and jumps.

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