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Sand plus sweat plus long hair plus Jake Gyllenhaal minus a shirt equals good times.  Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a movie that does more for the ladies in the audience than its weekend competition, Sex and the City 2, ever will.  The toned and muscular Gyllenhaal leaping and bounding across exotic locales, performing impossible feats of derring-do like a great-grandson of Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn, is the stuff that brought those stars of the past into the popularity they held for years.  The swashbuckling moments here, amped up to the modern, high-speed action standards that today’s moviegoers demand make Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time a perfectly entertaining way to spend twelve dollars. 

Young Dastan has been honoured by his king.  In an ancient land where all curry royal favour with duplicity and dishonour, the sight of a young orphan’s self-sacrificing rescue of a fellow street urchin profoundly moves and impresses the monarch.  Pursued by an irritated troop of soldiers, the resourceful lad flips and hurtles over the rooftops of Persia in his effort to flee (If a familiar tune from Disney's Aladdin {1992} pops into your head during this scene -- “Prince Ali! Fabulous he! Ali Ababwa” -- you’re not alone.).  Instead of losing a hand for his trouble, the little boy is raised up on royal shoulders, adopted by the king himself for his bravery and good character.  Years later, the former guttersnipe spends most of his days carousing and getting into trouble with the same loyal pals who knew him when he was a nobody.  Never expected to ascend the throne -- an honour reserved for the king’s two natural sons -- and despite the recklessness with which he habitually throws himself into battle, Dastan’s experience surviving on the streets makes him a trusted counselor to his adopted older bro.  After Dastan and his ragtag group ensure victory for his brother’s invasion of a holy city, a few of the spoils of that short war, including a strange, elegant dagger and the princess it belongs to, unsettle Dastan’s life in a way that instant, endless wealth could not.  Falsely accused of a horrible crime, Dastan drags his one hostage/guide, the princess Tamina, all over the desert looking for a way to clear his name.  Tamina, on the other hand, only wants back the dull blade that Dastan claimed for his own and will lie, cheat and steal to get it.  What is the secret behind the strange knife and why are people willing to murder to own it?

Slight of plot, but thick on video game style; Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time employs many influences for its freewheeling action.  To affect the Prince of Persia’s virtually gravity-free VG environment, gymnastics, Parkour, and good old Hong Kong wire-fu is widely used throughout the film.  While you can see the stuntman from time to time on some of the more obviously impossible stunts, Gyllenhaal handles all the running, jumping and climbing trees (or walls, or whatever obstacle is before him) deftly and believably.  The young actor known for deep, dramatic turns in films like 2005’s Brokeback Cowboy and last year’s Brothers, makes a nice salvo into the shallow pool of new action stars.  While much of what we see in Prince of Persia is CGI, Gyllenhaal’s chiseled and muscular physique, devoid of an ounce of fat, is further proof of the actor’s serious intentions toward the role, which could pass for a postmodern Sinbad.  Besides Gyllenhaal’s strenuous workout demands, there is the combination of floppy hair, puppy dog eyes and self-effacing charm that breathes life into his literally one-dimensional Dastan.  Much of the movie is likeable because Gyllenhaal is.

Bear in mind that this is a Jerry Bruckheimer production, so the emphasis, as ever, is on the boom and crash, not character development.  The film starts off rousingly, with director Mike Newell’s swooping perspective on the breakneck action making it feel as if we’re actually guiding Dastan through the first of many rigourous chases around, over and under the kingdom with a gamepad controller.  In the hand-to-hand ( and sword to sword) battle scenes, Newell actually finds a balance between the close-up camera angles so badly done in Western action films and holding the camera still to show the actors and fight choreographer doing their thing.  The brisk momentum peters out a bit by the third act and actually begins to feel a bit repetitious.  This is movie that drags to a dull thud as soon as someone starts talking, but Newell is smart enough to inject an unexpected bit of offhand British humour delivered by folks like Alfred Molina as a mercenary who hates taxes but really loves ostriches.  Ben Kingsley is also here and I don’t mean to spoil anything, but he’s the bad guy.  I hope you can recover from the shock.  As Tamina, the princess meant to protect the mysterious dagger and Dastan’s purported love interest, Gemma Arteton runs the gamut from flat to shrill in one easy step.  Mostly she’s there to live up to the character’s reputation as an incomparable beauty, which would probably be more convincing if her spray-on skin tone would stay consistent.  Most of the time the tanfaced actors look like they fought their way out of the bottom of a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos with varying degrees of success and streakiness.  I daresay the makeup department might’ve had an easier time of things had there actually been people from that region in the cast.  But I quibble; the action’s the thing, and it better be because trying to follow the nonsensical meant-for-gamers-only storyline about time manipulation will only give you a headache.

There’s something joyously B-movie about Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.  It’s not afraid to be what it is; an old video game someone thought would make a fun movie, and that person was occasionally right.  The swashbuckling action and pretty CGI will entertain anyone looking for a quick 90 minutes of escapism.  It won’t change anyone’s life and will slip from your memory the moment you’ve left the theatre like sand through an hourglass (- or dagger).  Still, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a rare thing lately in that it’s an action film the whole family can enjoy.


 ~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 28th, 2010






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