Movie rule of thumb #1: if Jerry Bruckheimer's name is on the poster, check your brain in with your coat. Prince Of Persia is typically undemanding summer blockbuster fare - all SFX and stylish set-pieces, but very little in the way of substance. I'm not complaining. These movies have their place. But if you're making a big, dumb movie that invites you to switch off and enjoy, then don't over complicate the plot - Pirates Of The Caribbean did it and Prince Of Persia does it too. It's a Bruckheimer trait.
Gyllenhaal might have seemed like an odd choice to top-line an action flick, given his indie leanings and wet noodle persona, but he's surprisingly tolerable as Prince Dastan; a parkour-obsessed oik who's adopted into Persia's royal family and grows into an abs-solutely un-flabulous warrior. Similarly, Gemma Arterton is not entirely grating as romantic interest Princess Tamina, an archetypal feisty (yawn) foil with which Dastan banters, bonds and bones (off-screen, presumably). If your two leads don't make you want to itch your retinas off, your movie is off to a fair start.
The plot, as previously mentioned, is needlessly over-egged and murky in the extreme. The Persians invade a holy city, which bears guardian to a dagger, which holds the sands of time. Push up, up, down, down, left, left, right, right, A, B and Start, and the holder of the dagger can reverse time back to a point of their choosing. Dick Dastardly, here disguised as Ben Kingsley, obviously wants said cheat code for himself, probably so he can go back to the moment he agreed to appear in it and walk out the door. The actual reason isn't any less stupid.
Pushed back a whole year by Disney, Prince Of Persia clearly benefited from the extra man-hours spent polishing the effects, because this is one of the better-looking CG-fests of late. Shot in Marrakesh, there's some genuinely sumptuous vista porn to soak up, while director Mike Newell takes care and devotion over his free-running action scenes; slow-mo is deployed somewhat avariciously but it does at least have the effect of making the fight scenes clear enough to make out. A small mercy.
It's just a shame the movie's extra gestation period wasn't better spent on giving the script a once-over, because it comes off as real first draft stuff; exposition is delivered with all the grace of a turd landing in your popcorn and the back-and-forth between Dastan and Tamina is teeth-grindingly vapid (if I have to watch Gyllenhaal stammer, "I... I..." in the trailers any more, I'm going to do myself an injury). Thankfully, character design fares a little better and the movie's so good-looking, it could be easily watched on mute.
Newell's casting is also one of the movie's strongest suits. Gyllenhaal adopts the action mantle easily and eventually beats an impressive British accent into submission, while Arterton is given more to work with than her gratuitous fuck-toy
role in Clash Of The Titans
. However, it's Alfred Molina's comic relief Sheik that lends Prince Of Persia the right tone: a tongue-in-cheek, playing-it-for-laughs, knockabout sheen that some rather pompous performances elsewhere (*cough*Kingsley*cough*) fail to grasp. Gold star for you, Alfred - another one for the front of the fridge.
Oh, and before I forget, there's a rather cool selection of ninjas in the movie, only they aren't called ninjas, they're called 'Hassansins'. They all wear black (which must be a BO nightmare out in the Arabian desert) and have speciality weapons; one guy has a retractable snake up his sleeve, another throws around a set of mini steak knives and one even has a scissor-hand on a rope that he swings around. That's kind of cool, but I'm guessing when the gun was ultimately invented, the long-range Hassansin was made redundant pretty quickly. Indy shooting that sword-swinging Arab really was the last straw.
A word also on the final action scene: a set-piece so overblown it borders on parody. Without spoiling the specifics (also because I can't remember them), Gyllenhaal and evil uncle Kingsley are engaging into a spot of tug-of-war over a huge gaping chasm, both yelling to be heard over a giant wave of expensive-looking special effects. It's pure sand and fury and so OTT you can't help but laugh, particularly because both characters' machinations are so cloudy, you won't have a clue what's going on. It's one of those scenes where you'll wish you had a magic dagger of your own, but one with a fast-forward button instead of rewind.
Prince Of Persia has a lot in common with Pirates Of The Caribbean (a likeable rogue, an SFX budget you can see from space), plus takes obvious visual clues from The Mummy movies - there's even a smidgen of Indiana Jones in there, too. It's a difficult movie to truly love, due to a constant need to show off and flex its muscle, but it's relatively easy to enjoy if taken as a brainless blast of blockbuster bollocks. Stick that on your poster, Bruckheimer.