Prince of Persia: A Review

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – Dir: Mike Newell; *ing: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina

Lust in the dust…

Let me be the first to say it: if you are not a slavish, drooling-at-the-mouth, nimble-thumbed, khaki-loving fan of the Prince Of Persia console games, this movie is probably not completely your bag. Which is not to say that it isn’t entertaining enough for the washed masses who have a life beyond PS2s and Boxes marked X, but it isn’t as easily or broadly warmed to as, say, The Pirates of the Caribbean, the reasons for which may lie in the fact that the movie is a little too heavy with the game’s somewhat convoluted mythos, and for non-gamers that means that it gets a little too talky a little too often.

Fortunately for me, I happen to BE a gamer and have gleefully taken on the Prince’s avatar many a time and so didn’t find it tiresome to have the plot explained to me by the characters a dozen times – that only served to give me a tingle. Therefore, please do forgive if your trip to the cinema (or DVD store) turns out to be a bust based on this review, because said review will be skewed, and proudly so.

Okay, admittedly the film has a whiff of the inane summer blockbuster about it – Lawrence of Arabia this ain’t (though the stunning Moroccan landscape doesn’t photograph half bad) – and often does come off as merely repetitive levels of a videogame (“Let’s go wrest the enchanted dagger from the bad guys – again!”). And nuance is scarce: Kingsley might as well have had a ‘I am the evil villain’ tattoo emblazoned across his gleaming bald pate. And nobody is going to be garlanding Newell as the newly-minted action-director-to-go-to anytime soon (he really should stick with marshmallow romantic comedies and the like).

And yet.

You have to give the little fellow marks for tryin’. Behind all the nonsense about adopted Persian Prince Dastan’s (Gyllenhaal) quest to return a time-altering dagger to its rightful place while sparring/flirting with the beauteous Princess Tamina (Arterton) and dodging the villainous designs of his mean uncle Nizam (Kingsley), is a good old-fashioned Thief of Bagdad-esque adventure that puts on a good enough show filled with breathtaking part-parkour chases, well choreographed action set pieces, and many a swash buckled with aplomb. What it lacks in narrative coherence it makes up for in enthusiasm and energy, and a lead pair that is committed to the task at hand. Arterton, the mythological flavor of the month (she was seen dispensing similar whispery-voiced duties in Clash of the Titans a few months ago) has seemingly overcome the curse of being a Bond girl that has dogged so many, and proves a feisty foil with her now-flirty-now-ethereal turn. Gyllenhaal, meanwhile, makes his transition from geek tragedy (Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain) to ripped-abs heroics with astoundingly effortless ease; he is more than believable as Dastan – golden-skinned and wisecrack-y and swaggering one minute, soulfully tortured the next. It is a star-making performance. The rest of the troupe seems almost incidental, except for Alfred Molina’s inspired smuggler/ illegal ostrich racer Sheikh Amar, who obviously owes some debt to Raiders of the Lost Ark’s memorable Sallah (John Rhys-Davies).

All in all, POP the movie may lack the feeling of being an ‘epic’, and its mystical shenanigans may make its bearings somewhat innocuous, but it does have enough flourish to qualify as an enjoyable sand-and-sword-and-sandals escapade.

Operation Desert Romp, if you will.

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