Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Mike Newell

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Steve Toussaint, Tobey Kebbell, Richard Coyle, Ronald Pickup

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action)

Running Time: 1:56

Release Date: 5/28/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 27, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is yet another entry in the increasing line of failed video game to movie adaptations. Forgoing the storybook-influenced narrative of its basis in favor of an overly complicated plot, the movie also turns one of the game's core mechanics into an all-purpose MacGuffin.

But that's enough geek for the moment.

What the movie has is the style of a fun-loving romp through the ancient Persian Empire, with its free-running hero, a dagger capable of time reversal, a comic sidekick, and a love/hate romance. What the movie is missing is the attitude to go along with it, with a quick-cut editing style that downplays the hero's acrobatics, an underused time travel gimmick, an out-of-place comic sidekick, and a romantic relationship heavy on the hate but defined by necessity.

The story revolves around (who else?) a prince of Persia named Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal). The king (Ronald Pickup) adopted the orphaned Dastan when he was a young boy based on his bravery in attacking the king's guards. Years later, Dastan and his brothers Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) attack the holy city of Alamut, under the counsel of their uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley), who has intel that the city is providing weapons to the empire's enemies.

Instead, the brothers and their uncle discover the princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton), who elicits the same groans from the Persian army when her face is revealed and when she declares her desire to die before joining forces with Persia. Tamina is the guardian of the mystical Dagger of Time, a weapon that with the push of a button can reverse time, a phenomenon of which only the possessor of the dagger is aware.

Regicide involving the same trick Medea used and a false accusation against Dastan follow, and the prince and princess flee to discover and reveal the real murderer.

Dastan is a student of parkour, running and jumping over and through anything in his path. During the assault on Alamut, he scales the city wall using arrows his men fire as handholds. He swings through small spaces to open the unenterable gates (breaking the city's thousand-year non-breaching streak). While inevitably being chased by guards, he flips and rolls anywhere he needs to go.

Director Mike Newell uses a lot of close-ups of feet and other appendages in the action sequences, more than likely due to the need to substitute in a stunt double for Dastan's more daring feats of foot-loose fancy. As a result, the free-running sequences are pieced together in multiple cuts, focusing more on the fluidity of the editing and less on the prince's gymnastics.

In between, Dastan and Tamina run into Amar (Alfred Molina), an entrepreneurial sheik who runs ostrich races and keeps skeletons at the entrance to his gaming center to keep out the tax collectors. Some of Amar's libertarian schtick is amusing, although his best line is a throwaway non sequitur about ostriches' suicidal tendencies.

His material is definitely funnier than the banter between Dastan and Tamina, who trade barbs and almost kiss a few times before finally locking lips after killing a ruthless, cobra-loving magician. There is nothing quite like a savage beating and throwing a man down a bottomless pit to bring a couple together.

Apart from Dastan's search for justice, the plot involves that dagger, which only holds a minute's worth of time-reversing sand in its hilt but contains a seemingly limitless supply of complications and rules. Turns out the blade was passed down from the gods after they attempted to cover the world in a giant sandstorm as a gift/warning/keepsake. The sand from the apocalyptic storm is held in a giant sandglass beneath Alamut, although its appearance brings to mind the Rock Candy of Destiny. Stab the dagger into the sandglass, and the holder will have unlimited time-rewinding ability. Also, it will unleash the storm on the world again. Although it actually doesn't.

Also, the dagger can be placed in a certain rock to destroy it. But it'll kill the person who puts it there. Unspoken but understood is that the dagger also has the power to render the owner completely forgetful of the fact that he or she holds a dagger that can turn back time and could prevent the multiple wounds and deaths of loved ones.

More than a tad obsessed with its intricately silly mythology, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time fails to recognize the potential fun of it.

Copyright 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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