Prince Of Persia, which opens today, is by no means a good movie, but critics say, "a few hours of Mr. Gyllenhaal jumping around in leather and fluttering his long lashes has its dumb-fun appeal."
Prince of Persia: The Sands Of Times is based on a 2003 video game of the same name and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who previously managed to turn a theme park ride into the hit Pirates of the Caribbean. The newly-buff Jake Gyllenhaal plays Dastan, a street urchin adopted by the King of Persia as a child and raised with the princes, Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell). As adults, their uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley) advises them to attack the city Alamut, which may be hiding weapons of mass destruction. Prince Dastan encounters Tamina (Gemma Arterton), a beautiful princess who is tasked with guarding a magical dagger. It works by pressing a red jewel on the hilt (not unlike a video game controller) and contains a sample of the Sands of Time, which allow its owner to turn back time and rule the world. Naturally, the two bicker throughout the movie but constantly look like they're about to kiss. (And eventually do, but only briefly. Damn PG-13 rating.)
The film is a typical summer blockbuster and doesn't aspire to be much more, which critics actually appreciate. It's silly and loaded with CGI action sequences, but not unwatchably bad. Reviewers say Arterton looks attractive as the princess, but "too intelligent for such silly stuff." As for Gyllenhaal, he's is likable, but too sensitive — there's "just a frothiness to Gyllenhaal that he can't seem to suppress." Still, as pseudo-historical, swashbuckling action films go, Gyllenhaal — and his abs — make this one relatively painless.
Below, the reviews:
To the credit of director Mike Newell (drawing on his Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire wrangling skills), a conclave of screenwriters who keep the dialogue on the sharp side, and the life's-a-game instincts of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, all that Arabian Nights-like stuff unfolds at a brisk, well-paced clip. Also, the producers had the bright idea of encouraging indispensable Alfred Molina (An Education) to cut loose as Sheikh Amar, a vibrant wheeler-dealer reminiscent of Sydney Greenstreet in Casablanca. I wish the movie weren't so visually junky-looking, and that the CGI action sequences (involving sand, and weapons, and the possible destruction of the world) weren't so vacant. But hey, this is what a videogame movie looks like now. I know I can't turn back time.
Gemma Arterton plays Tamina, a princess who knows more about the dagger than she lets on, and director Mike Newell works hard to make their encounters sexy and exciting as sandstorms swirl, but there's not much lust in the dust. Arterton, who suffered a classic Bond Girl exit in Quantum of Solace, brings exotic looks and great energy to the role, and it will raise her profile, but she appears too intelligent for such silly stuff.
For those of you-of us-who've been rooting for Jake Gyllenhaal to prevail as a romantic hunk in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the news is pretty good. He may not be another Douglas Fairbanks or Burt Lancaster, but his dashing Dastan drives this action adventure, which was directed by Mike Newell, with a sense of fun that was missing from "Robin Hood," and a winning demeanor that encompasses light irony and poetic melancholy, not to mention an earnest but slightly bizarre English accent. What's more, he finds a princess worthy of him in Gemma Arterton, who comes by her accent honestly. She's as English as, say, Vivien Leigh, on whose Cleopatra her fiery character may have been modeled, and she complements him perfectly in a succession of scorpions-in-a-bottle scenes that have been written, and are performed, with genuine elegance. (The princess, Tamina, goes through almost the whole film in a single, and elegant, white gown.)
Prince of Persia is meant purely as light entertainment, but the way it draws on layers of junk is depressing. It's based on clichés not only from old paintings but from some of the fruitiest and most swollen nineteen-fifties period spectacles; all this material, after passing through video games, now gets loaded back into a production requiring the wealth of corporate kings. For twenty years, audiences have been noticing the similarity between big action and fantasy movies and video games, but Prince of Persia goes beyond similarity; it actually feels like a video game. In order to work the dagger, you press a red jewel on the hilt, which suspiciously resembles a button on a game controller. After a while, backward motion ceases, and life goes forward again. The first time this happens, the effect is rather neat. By the third time, you think that the filmmakers have found a convenient way to avoid the difficulties of constructing a plot that makes emotional sense. Is this the future of screenwriting? The quick reversals that add to the fun of a game make nonsense out of the loyalties and desires of flesh-and-blood characters. At the climax, a good part of the plot is rapidly reversed, and you may find yourself wishing that the filmmakers had wiped out everything after the opening titles. Mike Newell has made solid movies-Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco-but what he does here feels more like traffic management than like direction. Even the pop-Orientalist scenes that should be scary fun just skitter off the screen in a rush of action.
The script, clearly written by committee, introduces a few genuine elements: Alamut was a real city, although not a holy one, and Dastan and Tamina are pursued by the Hashshashin, the cult of assassins whose name may be related to "hashish." Those two reference points put the story between the 8th and 14th centuries, after the rise of Islam. Yet the movie, with understandable timidity, doesn't mention that religion. Dastan invokes "God" and Tamina "the gods," but no deities are named. The characters spend less time revealing their own era than riffing on recent events and contemporary attitudes. Alamut is targeted in a search for nonexistent weapons (of mass destruction, presumably). And the film's comic relief, an ostrich-racing mogul played by Alfred Molina, is a desert libertarian who can't shut up about Persia's high taxes and useless bureaucrats.
The problem is that all blockbuster apocalypses look pretty much the same by now, and this one leans more heavily than it should on the video-game template of getting the hero from point A to point B by solving mazes and such. Gyllenhaal has turned in an acceptably pro performance so far (it consists mostly of keeping a straight face), but even he seems to check out of the proceedings late in the game.
Prince of Persia is truly silly, formulaic stuff, without an original thought in its over-produced head. No actual Persians were harmed (or even consulted) in its making. So why did I enjoy myself as much as I did? In part by laughing at the movie - sometimes you take what you can get - but also because pulp this unembarrassed can have a verve, even an innocence, that's unusual these days. It's the rare junk that knows its name.
With his wavering British accent and $200 million abs, Jake Gyllenhaal is about as authentically Persian as Charlton Heston was a Mexican in Touch Of Evil, but he certainly cuts a good figure, and cinematographer John Seale, who won an Oscar for The English Patient, flatters him in every shot...
The chief appeal of the Prince Of Persia platform games is the hero's nimble wall-climbing and building-jumping-parkour, 15 centuries before it had a name-but beyond a few zippy chase sequences and the time-reversing trick, Bruckheimer mostly recasts Pirates Of The Caribbean (with a touch of National Treasure) for another setting. He even brings in Alfred Molina as a loveable rogue of the Captain Jack school. But Prince Of Persia is a thin, witless, generic adventure, with baffling mythology, cheesy CGI, and a heroine whose regal petulance often recalls Daphne Zuniga in Spaceballs. Give the filmmakers credit for sidestepping the pitfalls of videogame adaptation, but getting around the problem isn't the same thing as solving it.
With the greasy, unkempt hair of an emo rocker and a Bart Simpson smirk, Jake Gyllenhaal goes swinging, leaping, slashing and joking his way through Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, an energetic if empty-headed adventure based on the popular video game. Though set in a sea of sand that's supposed to be ancient Persia, the movie features a titular hero whose anachronistic catchphrases — "That all ya got?" and "Whoa," uttered in an incongruous Cockney accent — makes him sound less like a Middle Eastern prince than an East End pothead.
A long-haired, ripped Jake Gyllenhaal plays the eponymous hero and proves himself a worthy action star. Likable and less old-school macho, he convincingly pulls off athletic leaps, dashing swordplay and acts of derring-do.
The production design has a rich, voluptuous look. But the story is overwrought, getting bogged down in exposition as it blends magic, myth and mayhem. Heavy on action and light on character development, it has the trademark Jerry Bruckheimer production formula, similar to the last two Pirates of the Caribbeaninstallments.
[Gyllenhaal] has proved himself a fine actor, with his closet cowboy in Brokeback Mountain still his defining moment. In Prince Dastan, he is supposed to be that heady mix of street smarts, roguish charm and barroom moxie with the noble heart of a lion underneath. It's a lot to ask and turns out to be something more than he can deliver. There's just a frothiness to Gyllenhaal that he can't seem to suppress - it even lurks behind Dastan's sneer - and it never fails to take the edge off. Too bad. That leaves us with a prince in need, when what we really need is prince indeed.
The two leads are not inspired. Jake Gyllenhaal could make the cover of a muscle mag, but he plays Dastan as if harboring Spider-Man's doubts and insecurities. I recall Gemma Arterton as resembling a gorgeous still photo in a cosmetics ad. If the two actors had found more energy and wit in their roles (if they'd ramped up to the Alfred Molina level, say), that would have been welcome. Oh, almost forgot: Molina's ostrich racer is outraged at government taxes. If big government can't leave a man alone to race his ostriches, they're all Alamutist sympathizers.
For the most part this is perfectly painless mush. The movie is irrepressibly silly - what were you expecting? - but a few hours of Mr. Gyllenhaal jumping around in leather and fluttering his long lashes has its dumb-fun appeal, as does the sight of Mr. Molina planting a kiss on an ostrich in a big-screen spectacle that's as much indebted to newfangled technologies as to old-fashioned Hollywood narrative strategies. If nothing else, it's entertaining to think about how this mash-up of ancient Persian heroics and headline news might sit with the Iranian powers that be. In March 2009 a spokesman for the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, demanded an apology from Hollywood for "insults and accusations against the Iranian nation" over the last 30 years. Clearly, they had no idea they were about to be Bruckheimer-ed.