From its aggressive advertising campaign to the conspicuous use of a colon in its title, it’s obvious that Disney hopes to create another Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster franchise like Pirates of the Caribbean with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The May 28 release combines flashy visual effects, chiseled muscles and vaguely Arabic imagery to generate an oddly satisfying, campy ride that will appease nerds hungry for blood and Playstation nostalgia.
The film even starts out like the beginning of an epic video game — fitting, since it’s based on one — complete with melodrama, slow motion shots and a quick, oversimplified setup of a ridiculous plot with actors that don’t quite fit their roles.
Most notably, expecting moviegoers to buy that Jake Gyllenhaal could possibly be from anywhere in the Middle East requires perhaps a greater suspension of disbelief than is reasonable to ask. Though the plot leaves his origins uncertain, the film gives itself an out by making Gyllenhaal’s character Dastan an orphan adopted by the king. All the same, one can’t help but gaze into Gyllenhaal’s eyes and see Donnie Darko, not an action hero.
After seeing Dastan sack the holy city of Alamut by scaling walls, leaping from ceiling to ceiling and making the city his personal jungle gym, viewers can look past his long and terribly stringy hair and forgive the actor’s forced accent.
The fact that director Mike Newell strategically employs the actor’s pretty-boy smile and leather-encased body makes up for a lot.
Regrettably, the rest of the ensemble blends in with the background of the film, which has a hyper-opulent aesthetic resembling a blend of Disneyland’s Indiana Jones attraction and the kingdom of Agrabah from Aladdin.
The only other star of the movie, the Jafar-like, jealous brother of the king, Nizam, is played by a thoroughly underused Ben Kingsley, whose stately demeanor and threatening goatee make an excellent — though cartoonish — villain with a truly creepy band of assassins: the dreaded, spike- and snake-yielding Hassansins, headed up by a Voldemort-like leader played by Gísli Örn Garðarsson.
As a foil to Gyllenhaal’s reckless masculinity, the doe-like Gemma Arterton’s Princess Tamina adds an element of sassiness, but not to the extent that Keira Knightley did in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Though Bruckheimer’s stamp of action-packed, visually arresting spectacle truly entertains, it lacks — for want of a better term — the Johnny Depp factor.
Alfred Molina as morally questionable entrepreneur Sheik Amar and Steve Toussaint playing the knife-throwing Seso add some laughs. The pair is particularly effective at providing comic relief in a phenomenal sequence involving, of all things, an ostrich race gone awry. Despite the occasional success of their scenes, they don’t have the same kind of quotable, relatable antics required in such a melodramatic action movie.
The fantastical plot that results from the far-fetched quasi-Persian setting is ridiculous, involving jealousy, intrigue and good old mystical destiny, but because of the wonderfully immersive quality of the world that the director has created, it’s also easily overlooked.
With laughably awkward lines of dialogue that sound much better in video game sequences, unnecessarily operatic romantic moments and numerous slow-motion scenes of Dastan screaming and fighting before walls of fire, Prince of Persia sticks faithfully to the spirit of the video game.
There are even sequences where the camera whooshes around just like a role playing game, changing angles as if the filmmakers were the cosmic player one pressing R2 to change the perspective in the game. It’s a blatant shout-out to nostalgic gamers, and it’s a nice gift to those who still remember when the latest thing in gaming was the vibrating controller, not fancy graphics or motion-capture technology.
All treats for gamers aside, Prince of Persia is still just a fun, fluffy film set to an epic score with enough action sequences to inspire at least three Disney park attractions. Though the film ends with a Star Trek-esque time-rift resolution that leaves the possibility of future movies open, most audiences will have probably had enough pulsing lights and constant motion.
There is such a thing as a ride that is simply too long and Prince of Persia comes close to it. Leaving the audience dizzy, giggling and with a nice jolt of adrenaline, the only thing viewers want to do is promptly get out of the building and shoot through the ride-themed merchandise store.
If there is a sequel in the future, however, it’s doubtful that moviegoers will be too eager to get in line to ride again.