Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010)

Back when I was in film school, my chums and I made a mockumentary called Winds of Time. It wasn't really about much of anything. A blizzard in April prompted the whole thing, as I recall, but the title was chosen because it was vacuous and pompous sounding, and thus in keeping with our intention to poke fun at a particular variety of pompous documentary film. This has nothing to do with Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, except that the title of that movie is also vacuous and pompous sounding. It is about time sand, however, which is some kind of mystical, magical sand that can reverse time, but only for the person who pushes the jewel button on the magical dagger that contains said time sand. And if the plot of Prince of Persia sounds like less fun than getting sand in your bathing suit, you're not too far wrong. The movie, which is based on a popular video game, is a bit of a snore. Bits of plot exposition, with a wee bit of halfhearted romantic verbal sparring, are inserted between action scenes. Mostly it's about jumping and sword fighting and knife throwing and swirly time sand, which might be fun in a video game, but, as is often the case with game-to-movie adaptations, not that much fun to watch.

The story concerns a young prince who started life as a pauper. Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the son of King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup) of Persia. Dastan was a plucky orphan boy who was adopted after he impressed the king with an act of courage and daring. Grown-up Dastan remains brave and reckless as a young warrior, fighting alongside his brothers Garsiv (Toby Kebbell) and Tus (Richard Coyle), and their scheming uncle Nizam (Ben Kingsley). The brothers conquer the holy city of Alumat, after Nizam claims that his spies tell him the city is manufacturing weapons for the enemies of Persia. In Alumat, Dastan takes possession of the magical dagger, which, should it be misused, is a kind of weapon of mass destruction, and he meets the dagger's sworn guardian, Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton). She instantly loathes Dastan, so you know that love can't be far behind. You know this, watching the movie, but there is absolutely no spark -- not the teeniest bit -- between Dastan and Tamina, nor Gyllenhaal and Arterton, so the romance remains strictly hypothetical, although the movie pretends it's real anyway.

Palace intrigue, machinations, assassinations, and a false accusation later and Dastan and Tamina are on the lam, he to clear his name, and she to protect the dagger. On the evidence, I doubt Tamina could keep a rock safe from a feather duster, and she's not much help on the dagger front, although she tells Dastan that the dagger must be taken to the Secret Guardian Temple or something sensible like that. Dastan apparently invented parkour there in ancient Persia, and likes to leap across rooftops and scurry up walls while fending off assorted assassins sent to eliminate him and steal the dagger. Sandstorms, camels and bandits happen as well.

Alfred Molina turns up for some much-needed comic relief, playing Sheik Amar, an entrepreneur who poses as a brigand so as to avoid paying taxes. He hates taxes and big government, but he loves ostriches. Twas when Molina showed up that it became clear that  Prince of Persia has *Pirates of the Caribbean* pretensions (it was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who launched the pirate franchise for Disney, too). Molina is the Captain Jack Sparrow stand-in here, a desert pirate with a heart of dented gold, and he is a hoot (as he so often is), which is all the more welcome because the rather unfortunate attempts at romantic comedy between Tamina and Dastan have all the fizz of flat seltzer. 

Director Mike Newell, who used to make chipper romantic movies, then launched into supernatural action movies (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), directs  Prince of Persia with the trademark Bruckheimer look -- lots of sepia filters, and big, complex, CGI-heavy action sequences. The plot is a throwaway, a generic action-fantasy movie plot that could have been set in any time and any place. Which is to say, anyone looking for a timely message about, say, the current political and/or historical situation in Iran or some such is most definitely barking up the wrong palm tree. Even the accents are generic movie British (or authentic British in some cases). Gyllanhaal's accent is passable, and he's definitely buffed up for the part, although his hairstyle is positively dreadful. Arterton looks, sounds, and acts like she walked in from some other generic sand-based movie, and, as the sole feminine presence in the film (save for a few harem girls), she's sorely out of place. I'm not convinced she could survive a walk across a sandbox, let alone a trek across the movie's vast deserts. Kingsley, although a very fine actor, hasn't yet played a bad guy without it being instantaneously obvious that he's playing the bad guy, especially when he has a little Van Dyke beard and kohl-rimmed eyes. So it will surprise no one to learn that he's a duplicitous uncle and the villain of the movie. 

The handiness of the time-reversing dagger is that it's only a matter of time before Dastan gets a do-over, so there's very little peril for him or anyone else in the movie. If I had a magic time dagger, I think I'd push the button and go see a different movie.