Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (2010)

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Aterton and Ben Kingsley
Written by Jordan Mechner, Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard
Directed by Mike Newell

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time [Blu-ray]Sometimes you come across a film that should be really cool, but ultimately the only response you have to it is "meh."  Based on the series of videogames, "Prince of Persia" tells the story of Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) a Persian orphan adopted and raised by the king of the ancient empire of Persia.  Dastan grows up to be a formidable warrior along with his brothers Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell), who are the king's biological sons.

One day, the armies of Persia, led by Tus, come to the edge of the city of Alamut.  King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) believes the city to be holy, and ordered his sons to keep their troops away from it.  But Sharaman's brother Nizam (Ben Kingsley) presents evidence that Alamut has been manufacturing weapons for Persia's enemies.  Dastan tries to stop Tus from ordering the army to attack, but ultimately doesn't press hard enough.  Instead of allowing his brother to mount a devastating frontal assault, Dastan leads a small group of warriors on a stealth mission to open the eastern gates of Alamut.  Once he breaches the walls, he encounters a priest whom he kills.  Dastan finds a strange dagger the man was trying to protect, and keeps it as a trophy.

Having conquered the city of Alamut, Tus proposes marriage to the city's princess, Tamina (Gemma Aterton), to make peace with the inhabitants after she begs for mercy.  The king arrives, infuriated that his sons disobeyed his orders, but is soon won over by the gifts they present him with.  But one of the gifts, a fancy robe, is poisoned and kills the king in front of everyone.  Dastan is blamed, having presented the robe to the king, and escapes along with Tamina and the dagger.  Dastan discovers that the dagger has the power to turn back time a few moments, allowing him to undo mistakes or avoid certain dangers. 

Along with Tamina, Dastan must discover who has framed him for the murder of the king and prevent the release of the Sands of Time, which would unleash the wrath of the gods and destroy all mankind.

Take a look at that last sentence.  Notice how the second part of it totally sticks out?  Yeah, that's how it feels in the movie, too.  The film barrels along with its plot about Dastan proving his innocence and then suddenly throws in this "twist" about the end of the world about two-thirds of the way through.  Of course, this is meant to up the stakes for the film's climax - to have Dastan discover that this is about more than just clearing his name or saving his kingdom from a power-hungry traitor.  But honestly it just doesn't really work. 

Part of the problem is that the dagger itself is such a non-entity in the movie.  It's time reversing powers are used only three times in the entire 2 hour movie, and only once in an action sequence.  The rest of the movie's action is just a lot of running and quick sword fights.  Oh, and the running... there's seriously not enough parkour in this movie.  Not.  At.  All.  It was a huge part of the game, and there's some semblance of the kind of crazy acrobatics here, but much of it is cheated with quick edits instead of letting us see some truly impressive stunt work.  There's nothing that rivals the awesome stuff you'll see in "District B-13" or the opening of "Casino Royale." The difference is that both of these movies let us see the stunts, whereas in "Prince of Persia" it seems much more obviously faked, either through special effects or "clever" editing to hide the fact that the actors aren't really doing those crazy moves - the director just wants us to think they are.

So right there you've got the two essential parts of the "Sands of Time" videogame that are fairly well negated in the movie that is supposedly based upon it.  Then there's the Sands themselves - in the game, the Sands were released and it is the Prince's mission to seal them back up (since releasing the sands unleashed an army of monsters upon the kingdom).  Here, he has to prevent them from being released, which will end the world.  It's just not as interesting, frankly. 

The only time the film feels truly alive is when Alfred Molina is around, playing a shady gambler named Amar.  He runs an ostrich race track in the middle of the desert, and he's pretty damn funny.  Shades of Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow are thrown in to help liven things up, but Molina seems like the only member of the cast who's really having any fun whatsoever. 

So some of the fights are cool, and Alfred Molina is great... but those are really the only things "Prince of Persia" has to offer.  The script is slight, at best.  I don't know how there are four names attached to it, with so little going on.  The beginning of the film shows promise, and the attack on Alamut shows some inventiveness, but after that things sort of drag for a while until too late in the game.  "Prince of Persia" is a two-hour movie that should be more like 100 minutes.