Saturday, May 29, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is certainly an odd hybrid, a video game adaptation reincarnated as a swords and sandals blockbuster with old Hollywood classicality.  Helmed by one time Harry Potter director Mike Newell, it is an unabashed popcorn popping money machine, built to wow, and in multiple installments.  Its soul is as dry as the sands that consume its settings, and yet its plasticity is not without charm, even when its buried in dialogue even the most talented actors can’t help you enjoy.

  Star Jake Gyllenhaal is usually one of those actors, a Hollywood kid who grew into more depth then he was earlier given credit for.  But as Dastan, the title prince in Persia, he’s beefed up and primed to play a wisecracking, rebellious action hero, leaving all subtlety and pathos at home, ready and waiting for more appropriate affairs.  Here he’s more acrobat than actor, jumping over rooftops and flying into windows with swashbuckling charisma, stopping only occasionally to exchange screwball pleasantries with the biting beauty assigned to his heart.

Gemma Arterton plays the beauty Tamina, and she is very much that, opposing Gyllenhaal’s newly minted beefcake persona with feminine strength. Her poised presence and delivery has earned her several old-school Hollywood roles as of late (ie: oracle to the Gods in Remember the Titans, Bond Girl in 2008’s Quantum of Solace), and found her saddled with more than her fair share of that wooden dialogue.  Still, there’s been moments where she’s charmed her way through it, and there are a few of those in her Indiana Jones-like banter with Gyllenhaal here.

The adventure that brings this royal screwball romantic duo together involves a magical dagger capable of turning back the sands of time, and giving its possessor the ability to traverse those sands.  Of course, many greedy and powerful men would love to posses such a weapon, and it’s up to Team Dustan to make sure that doesn't happen.  Cue the swordfights and Arabian nights.

Like everything else in Persia, the action is both comically video game-esque and classically staged, with Newell drawing often on his past work on The Young Indiana Jones.   Indeed, at its best Persia shares a great deal of flare with Jones and its predecessors, emphasizing the adventure and the quippy romance above all else.

At its worst, though, this Disney flick is a brain-dead, plot-empty blockbuster money suck, labored and uninteresting.  That it isn’t these things all the time is a minor miracle.  And when compared to the likes of Transformers 2 or MacGruber, Newell’s film is practically high art.
Like so many flicks of its summer ilk, its err is in the screenplay, this time contrived by Boaz Yakin (From Dusk Till Dawn 2) and the Doug Miro/Carlo Bernard team responsible for the upcoming Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Screwball dialogue aside, there isn’t a single thing in this script worth writing about.

It’s hard to build a film on a faulty foundation, and the fact that many will have trouble buying Gyllenhaal as a swashbuckler doesn’t help.  He does at times seem over his head, but he is nevertheless consistently likeable.  Alas the same can’t be said for his film.  We can only hope that Prince of Persia is at the bottom of the heap when this summer’s Blockbuster Smackdown is said and done.  Updated standings:
1.)   Iron Man 2
2.)   Shrek 4
3.)   Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

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