‘Prince of Persia:
The Sands of Time’
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action
Running time: 116 minutes
Bottom line: That’s one dull dagger
May isn’t even over, and we already have our first summer flop in the making.
"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" arrives with a Disney pedigree, at least one respected producer — John August (writer of "Big Fish" and others), and a great cast.
And it lands with all the splendor of camel dung dropping in the desert.
Dastan is an orphaned boy whom the Persian king (Ronald Pickup) adopts as his son. Later as a young man, Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is brave, reckless and noble. His popularity among the soldiers and his lack of royal blood creates some tension between himself, his brothers Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell), and the king’s brother, Nizam (Ben Kingsley).
The Persian army, under Tus’ command, conquers a sacred, neighboring city. In the process, Dastan comes into possession of what he thinks is a normal dagger — just a spoil of war. Tus, meanwhile, takes the beautiful, feisty princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) as his own prize.
Through a bit of court intrigue, the king is killed and Dastan is blamed. Now wanted by the entire Persian empire, Dastan and goes on the run with Tamina, who is only helping Dastan in order to protect the dagger.
Dastan soon discovers why. The dagger gives its possessor the power to go back in time and change the course of events. If used improperly, though, the dagger could cause the gods to destroy the world.
Ah, summer movie plots. So believable, so modest.
The sound you’re hearing about now is the sharpening of knives all over the country as critics prepare to slash into this one. The advanced notices have been ruthless, and it won’t only be those industry insiders who slice and dice this movie. This is a dumbed down blockbuster destined to appear on many "worst of the year" lists.
The movie is based on a video game — not even a game that’s widely respected — and it shows. Games aren’t usually driven by character, and that’s by design. The player fills out the character with his or her own imagination and style of play.
Movies, however, are entirely character driven. The promise of spectacular action sequences might draw us in, but we only really care if the characters are compelling. So if you’re going to adapt a game to a movie, you’d better flesh out the characters.
The "Prince of Persia" writers — all four of them — did not do that.
In an attempt to give the movie some depth, they inject some blatant politics into the story. Tus decides to invade Tamina’s city based on reports they have been manufacturing weapons for Persia’s enemies. After the city is defeated, the Persians begin a thorough search for hidden weapons.
Need I say more?
Gyllenhaal and Arterton are both gorgeous and talented, and the supporting cast is outstanding. But they’re all forced to spit out dialogue that is every bit as lame as you’d expect from a game. The heavy-handed political undertones just add insult to injury.
It’s as if the story and dialogue were written for a G-rated audience, which is completely incompatible with the movie’s violence and imagery, which are intense even by PG-13 standards.
Disney has been promoting this for months, so it might pull in a respectable first-weekend audience. But when word of its mediocrity spreads, this one is going to fade into oblivion in a hurry.
The Mouse House also clearly wanted to turn "Prince of Persia" into a franchise, and I can’t imagine it will happen. Disney will likely wish it had its own mystical dagger so it could reverse time and decide not to make this movie.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.