(by Dustin Putman
Based on a twenty-year-old video game whose makers must have seen the "Indiana Jones" movies one too many times, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" is a second or maybe even third-rate rip-off of the series made famous by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Its bombastic $150-million budget is wasted on a garish onslaught of CGI that could have been stolen right out of 1999's "The Mummy," while the script from Boaz Yakin (2004's "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights") and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard (2009's "The Uninvited") is a hodgepodge of whiplash-inducing storytelling, frumpy dialogue, and repetitive action scenes set in unattractive, yellow-tinted locations. For a film that is supposed to be high on excitement and check-your-brain-at-the-door entertainment, the results prove to be increasingly wearisome and not much fun at all. Article continues below
"I saw a boy whose blood was not noble, but his spirit was." So says King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup), leader of medieval-set Persia, in describing why he chose to adopt orphan boy Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) fifteen years earlier. Following a wrongheaded siege on the Holy City of Alamut, King Sharaman is left dead by way of a poisoned cloak Dastan had just given him. Falsely accused of murdering his own father, Dastan finds himself teaming up with the feisty, belligerent Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) and going on the run. His aim is to prove his innocence by finding out who among brothers Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) is the real culprit, plotting to overtake the throne. Even more alarming is a dagger in the possession of Dastan and Tamina with the power to turn back time; if it falls into the wrong hands, it could quite possibly spell Armageddon.
Director Mike Newell impressed with his helming of 2005's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," bringing richness to his visuals, his action set-pieces, and J.K. Rowling's characters. None of that skill seems to have carried over to "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," a hokey fantasy-adventure that takes itself seriously even as the viewer finds it impossible to do the same. Never feeling like an authentic step back into ancient Persian times, the film instead resembles two hours of actors playing dress-up. The cinematography by John Seale (2006's "Poseidon") sneaks in a few attractive shots, but is largely mucked up by the lacking effects work and post-production processing. The narrative is at once juvenile and ludicrously incoherent, and the screenwriters seem to know it as stilted, overexplanatory lines such as, "The dagger is in the tower guarded by a demon covered in spikes!" take precedence. Yes, you read that right, and yes, that snippet of dialogue is actually uttered. It's far from the only howler.
Jake Gyllenhaal (2009's "Brothers") has the brawny buffness and accent down pat, but his performance is otherwise overshadowed by the computer fakery and bad writing surrounding him. For someone who has just lost his father and watched him die a horrible death before his eyes, Dastan sure seems to get over it quickly as he smiles his way through his bickering/flirty banter with Tamina. As the princess, Gemma Arterton (2010's "Clash of the Titans") has a couple okay moments with Gyllenhaal, but is mostly a vacant-eyed beauty who looks as if nothing is going on upstairs. Ben Kingsley (2010's "Shutter Island"), unsubtly playing Uncle Nizam, might as well have worn a sign warning that he can't be trusted. The rest of the performers, including Alfred Molina (2009's "An Education") as Sheik Amar, make little to no impression in bland or ineffectual roles.
"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" has one original element—a quick glimpse of an ostrich race—so naturally nothing of note is done with this loopy sidebar that ends up passing the characters by. The rest of the picture, sorry to say, is unevenly paced, carries no momentum, and gives zero reason for why the audience should give two squirts about any of these jazbos on screen. Furthermore, when you're dealing with a major story point wherein a magical object can turn back time and right various wrongs, how is one supposed to feel a sense of danger? After all, if someone dies, you can just go back and stop it from happening. "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" isn't an hour in before sheer boredom sets in, so here's a potential way to pass the minutes: count how many times "Dastan" is spoken aloud. Not since Carol Anne in "Poltergeist III" has a character's name been so overused in the dialogue. It might not sound like the most thrilling thing to do, but hey, when you're dealing with a movie as empty as this one, you take what you can get.