Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time wants so much to be Pirates of the Caribbean that you almost want to give it a pass. After all, it has a nice old-fashioned swashbuckling plot with noble princes, a fierce-willed princess and a wise-cracking blackmarketeer.
But director Mike Newell, who has made movies as funny as Four Weddings and Funeral and as dramatic as Donnie Brasco just can’t make the action scenes very entertaining, and the movie is nearly all action scenes.
The other bits are more entertaining, but still not as fun as they should be. Jake Gyllenhall may have grown the physique of an action hero, but he’s woefully dull. Even Ben Kingsley seems to not know what to do except look off camera as if to ask, “Are you sure this isn’t too much eyeliner?” Alfred Molina, as comic relief Sheik Amar, is the only one who seems to get the tone of the film, and his commentaries on paying taxes and secret death squads are the wittiest moments of the movie.
In fact, I’d like to give the filmmakers credit for placing obvious parallels to recent history into the film (but not, perhaps, for having characters point it out so shamelessly). The movie features an invasion of an innocent city on false pretenses in order to get at a natural resource buried in the ground and a futile search for weapons of mass destruction. It’s all a bit heavy-handed, but I like it when a popcorn movie as least makes an attempt to be relevant.
Will you enjoy the movie? It passes the time easily enough, though not so quickly as magical sand through a dagger’s handle. I think what it will come down to for most audiences is this — SPOILERS AHEAD — aside from the obviousness that the magical sand will be used to turn back the plot to some convenient moment in the ill-conceived invasion, did none of the filmmakers realize that doing so erases everything we’ve seen (about 1 1/2 hours of the film)? It’s the whole ‘and why did I just watch all that, then?’ syndrome. Maybe they caught the same disease that the writers of LOST got this last season.
FINAL SPOILER: A major plot strand is not tied up (intentionally?): the corruption of the invaded city’s priests. While the mopey-eyed Gyllenhall made double entendres with the fair princess, I kept hoping one of these corrupt priests would stab him and steal the dagger. That’s what he gets for not mentioning this little nugget of wisdom from the alternate timeline. It would have been in keeping with a character so slow-witted that, the whole movie, he never figures out he has the power to reverse the ill events. Doesn’t he know, after all, that he is a video game character? You just keep playing the level till you solve the puzzle. Would that Mike Newell, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and screenwriter/original game designer Jordan Mechner had done so.