Paycheck Prince Jake Gyllenhaal Cannot Beef Up The Sands of Time
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Times story hinges on a dagger that can rewind time, a narrative conceit that doubles as a taunt to those who endure this cacophonous, frivolous adaptation of Ubisofts Arabian Nightsthemed video-game series. Bruckheimered to the hilt with the same rollicking period-piece cheesiness that typified the producers (and studio Disneys) Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, this latest summer spectaclehelmed unimaginatively by Mike Newellconcerns Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), a buff, wannabe-rebellious hunk whose princely status comes not from a royal bloodline but via adoption, picked off the streets by a noble king (Ronald Pickup) who saw courage in the then-young scamp. Populated by strangely accented Americans and Brits posing as Middle Easterners, this origin story thoroughly recalls the Mouse Houses Aladdin, to the point that one half-expects Robin Williams to suddenly appear on the soundtrack and begin maniacally crooning about Agrabah.
Have no fear: Alfred Molina, as an ostrich-racing entrepreneur, more than makes up for this absence, laying comedic-relief schtick on thick while simultaneously spouting more leaden ripped-from-the-headlines allusions than this flippant fable can withstand. Hot-topic currents course throughout Prince of Persias initial battle, as Dastan helps his brothers-in-arms conquer a fortified sacred city only to discover thatholy Green Zone!the weapons-manufacturing facilities they sought to destroy dont exist. These lame political overtones immediately clash with the actions cartoonishness, and might have mercifully died away amid the ensuing CGI hubbub if not for Molinas incessant yammering about being a small-business owner oppressed by dastardly rulers intent on levying the hard-working populace. Like Ridley Scotts Robin Hood, the film equates villainy with unfair taxation, but unlike that Nottingham snooze, Newells popcorner at least has the good sense to try to offset its shallowly addressed contempo concerns with animated, high-flying set pieces.
As for the convoluted plot itself, Prince of Persia charts Dastans efforts to clear his name after hes fingered for his fathers assassination, a mission aided by strong-willed princess Tamina (Clash of the Titans beauty Gemma Arterton) and a magic blade that, fueled by divine sand the Gods once used to try to exterminate mankind, gives those who wield it the ability to travel one minute back in time. Faithfully resembling the acrobatic video-game protagonist upon whom hes based, Gyllenhaals blandly roguish Dastan carries out his quest by leaping, swinging, and scurrying about marketplaces and crumbling ruins with pogo-stick parkour agility, and the newly muscular actorthough still too sweet and amicable a presence to radiate genuine ass-kicking machismocarries out his derring-do with engaging proficiency. Yet Newell, he of Four Weddings and a Funeral, is ill-suited to steward such sword-and-sandals adventure, his directionwhile slightly eschewing modern genre practitioners penchant for slicing-and-dicing skirmishes into visual incoherenceis too pedestrian and partial to clumsy slow-mo effects to truly energize the story.
Despite tossed-off gibberish about father-son bonds, nominal intrigue regarding who framed Dastan, and faux-suspense over when he and Tamina will stop bickering and start sucking face, its the sought-after supernatural blade that receives the lions share of attention from Newell and his digital artist accomplices: The weapons use results in whirly-twirly camera movements and Dastans skin being infected with volcanic light. These scraps of moderately inspired eye candy, however, remain sparse and incapable of lending weight to such cash-my-paycheck-dammit material. Nowhere is that more pronounced than with Dastans uncle, Nazim, who is embodied with disinterest by Sir Ben Kingsley, and whose stone-faced evilness is expressed via a bald head and jet-black goatee that positions the stodgy scoundrel as a mini-me Ming the Merciless.
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