Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Cast:
Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan
Gemma Arterton as Tamina
Ben Kingsley as Nizam
Alfred Molina as Sheik Amar
Steve Toussaint as Seso
Toby Kebbell as Garsiv
Richard Coyle as Tus
Ronald Pickup as King Sharaman
Reece Ritchie as Bis

Directed by Mike Newell

Summary:
Despite lacking a bit in story and characterization, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is an entertaining popcorn flick worth checking out.

Story:
In ancient Persia, Prince Dastan aids his brothers in a siege against a holy city. Little does he know that inside the city is a magical dagger with the power to turn back time. Princess Tamina protects the dagger. When the invaders overrun the city, Dastan recovers the dagger but is completely unaware of the magical powers that it possesses. Tamina is also captured and offered as a prize to Dastan’s father, King Sharaman.

Unfortunately Sharaman is killed and Dastan is framed for the assassination. He barely escapes from the captured city with Tamina and the dagger. Now on the run, he must find a way to clear his name and uncover the true murderers. But the success of his quest may have far more important consequences for the entire world.

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.

What Worked:
I was unfamiliar with the “Prince of Persia” video game, so I went into this movie with no preconceptions. But if the game is similar to the movie, I’d have to say this is one of the better video game films I’ve seen. Granted, that bar is not set very high, but it is good to see the translation done well for a change.

One of the things that makes “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” interesting is the setting. You’re treated to grand palaces, interesting architecture, elaborate costumes, and a generally intriguing location. It immediately sets the movie apart from many other adventure films. It’s kind of nice to be reminded that Iraq isn’t just a bombed out, war torn region. There was once rich history and culture there even if we’re only treated to the Hollywood version of it on the screen. (It would have been nice if they had cast more people that actually looked like they were from that region.)

The cast is generally solid. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan. I expected to be distracted by his fake British accent, his long hair, etc. But it didn’t take long to buy him as the character and he handled the action well. He also had good chemistry with Gemma Arterton as Tamina. Arterton has been on the screen a lot lately, but this is definitely a standout role for her. She’s kind of the “Princess Leia of Persia.” She’s feisty, beautiful, and has a good love/hate relationship with Dastan. It was also nice to see Ben Kingsley as Nizam. He has been in a lot of terrible movies lately, so it’s nice to see him regain some of his dignity here. But the real standout is Alfred Molina as Sheik Amar. He provides a lot of comic relief and actually gets the most genuine laughs of any of the cast.

As I walked out of this movie, it felt very familiar to me. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but I eventually realized that it felt like a cross between “The Mummy” and the new “Clash of the Titans.” “Prince of Persia” has the ancient settings and desert locations of “The Mummy.” The relationship between Tamina and Dastan also felt a lot like the one between Evie and Rick. “Persia” also has the fantasy elements of both films as well as Gemma Arterton from “Titans.” So I’d say if you liked both of those films, you’ll likely enjoy “Prince of Persia.”

I typically screen movies before I take my kids to them, but I decided to take my young sons to this without seeing it first. I figured if it was by Disney and they were selling LEGO sets from the movie, then it would be appropriate for kids. For the most part I found it to be suitable for them. There was a little blood and a gory scene where a snake was cut open, but it’s generally on par with “Pirates of the Caribbean” as far as tone and content. If you let your kids watch “Pirates,” then this is OK. I found it funny that when it was over and I asked my boys what their favorite scene was, they said it was a scene with a bunch of ostriches racing. Their favorite moments weren’t all the CGI-filled scenes that Jerry Bruckheimer spent millions on. It was live ostriches. Take note, Jerry!

What Didn’t Work:
Earlier in this review I compared the movie to “The Mummy” and “Clash of the Titans.” It’s like them in another respect – they were all good but not great films. “Prince of Persia” lacks that last little something that pushes it to the next level. Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan is good but not great. The story is good but somewhat predictable. The action scenes are entertaining but not memorable. Across the board “Prince of Persia” is a solid, entertaining movie but I don’t think it will be remembered as a great film or even one you’ll feel the need to repeatedly revisit. It needed that last little ‘oomph’ to spice up the characters and make the script give us something we haven’t seen before. Maybe if they do a sequel they can take it to the next level.

I complained a little about the action scenes. I have to mention they did get a bit repetitive. Most of the action sequences feature Dastan doing ‘parkour’ in the Persian cities, Dastan getting in a sword fight, or Dastan doing ‘parkour’ while sword fighting. I wanted to see something new and it didn’t happen very often in this movie. Notable exceptions include a great scene where snakes attack a camp and an interesting knife-throwing battle takes place between some secondary and tertiary characters. I think if you’re going to do sword fighting, there needs to be some serious character drama going on during it (like Luke and Vader’s fight in “The Empire Strikes Back”) or you need to throw in something fun and different (like the swordfights in “Zorro” or Jack and Will’s first fight in “Pirates of the Caribbean”).

“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” also seems to take some swipes at the Bush Administration. Dastan’s family invades the Persian city (in present day Iraq) based on false information that there are weapons being made for enemies there. Sound familiar? Not only does this seem like a dated swipe, but it risks alienating a portion of the audience. Bruckheimer and crew seem to try and balance this by having Sheik Amar gripe about taxes and an invasive government, but it comes across as pretty blatant effort to win back conservative audiences and it rips you out of the fantasy world of this movie. I think it was a bad move and I can already hear conservative talking heads preparing their commentary to gripe about “Prince of Persia,” Disney, and Bruckheimer. It’s annoying.

The Bottom Line:
“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” could have been a lot better movie, but it’s entertaining enough and a decent popcorn flick to get you through the Memorial Day weekend.

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