Try as I may, I simply cannot dislike any movie with both an ostrich race and an ostrich stampede. Oh, sure, I think producer Mr. Jerry “Overkill” Bruckheimer erred in not making the stampede bigger (a rare complaint with Bruckheimer), and I’m certain he could have found a way to get Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton on ostrich-back, but he didn’t. Oh well, perhaps in the sequel. Truthfully, I had a good enough time—in a noncerebral way—with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. It lands somewhere in between a Pirates of the Caribbean movie and a National Treasure one, with a leaning toward the latter—if the latter had been set in a stylized, storybook ancient Persia.
I doubt it matters much whether you’ve played the video game on which the film is based. I haven’t, but I suspect I’ve already figured out at least part of the game’s gimmick from the movie. In any case, a movie should stand apart from its source material and Prince of Persia does so adequately enough. In fact, it resembles nothing so much as a CGI variant on something either Douglas Fairbanks or Douglas Fairbanks Jr. might have made. In fact, a good deal of Gyllenhaal’s leaping about and monkey-like capering is clearly inspired by the elder Fairbanks’ work. Fortunately, Gyllenhaal doesn’t make you long for a tranquilizer gun the way Doug Sr. often does. Unfortunately, Gyllenhaal lacks the charisma of Doug Jr. It’s only a so-so trade-off.
The story line is no great shakes. Gyllenhaal is Dastan, the adopted son of King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup). He and his brothers, Garsiv (Toby Kebbell, RocknRolla) and Tus (Richard Coyle, The Libertine), along with their uncle, Nizam (Ben Kingsley), have been dispatched to fight terrorists of some kind. Having received information that a sacred city is supplying the terrorists with ancient world weapons of mass destruction (yes, the film strains for some kind of topicality), they decide to invade the—of course—blameless city. Well, it’s blameless as concerns supplying terrorists, but it deserves some kind of punishment for having soldiers who trot along saying something like, “Woot woot.” (The effect is akin to being attacked by a Jerry Springer audience.)
The whole attack is a put-up job by a duplicitous traitor—and there are no prizes for guessing who it is. Put simply, no man wearing that much eyeliner who isn’t a rock star can possibly be trusted. And the whole post-invasion search for those nonexistent weapons? Stuff and nonsense. The object of interest is this nifty push-button dagger that allows the user to rewind time—a minute of it anyway—thanks to a smattering of the titular “Sands of Time” in its handle. The villain of the story has his own perfidious designs on this neat knife, with the idea of using it and the hidden repository of Sands of Time to really turn back the clock. Of course, he doesn’t realize that his plan will destroy the world—or so Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton, Pirate Radio) claims. Throw in a trumped-up charge of regicide—not to mention patricide—for our hero and you have it.
Yes, this is pretty silly stuff and it’s mostly used to hang a variety of set pieces on—including the encounter with Sheik Amar (Alfred Molina) and his crooked ostrich races. The screenplay—credited to four writers—often strains under its desire to be modern: There are the WMD references and the attempt to make Sheik Amara into some kind of Arabian anti-taxation tea-partier. The movie also goes on longer than it needs to. The action is generally coherent, though the film occasionally CGIs itself into easy solutions that look spectacular, but make little sense. All in all, Prince of Persia is exactly what it appears to be—and it’s pretty good at that. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action.