June 3, 2010

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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (PG-13)
Jake Gyllenhaal and his skater-boy haircut are tasked with saving the world in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a relaxed but watchable little action movie.

As a boy, our lead was an orphan living in the markets, but thanks to the kindness of the king, he is now Prince Dastan (Gyllenhaal), a prince of the vast empire of Persia. (Throughout the movie, everyone pronounces his name as if they’re saying “Destin” as in Destiny as in he has one and don’t strain yourself there, Foreshadowing.) Along with his two brothers, crown Prince Tus (Richard Coyle) and, uhm, Auxiliary Prince Garsiv (Toby Kebbell), Dastan is poised to invade a holy city (holy to whom, you ask; well, don’t because the movie doesn’t specify) because they’ve received intelligence that the city is making weapons for their enemies (swords, bows and the like). Nizam (Ben Kingsley), brother to the king, uncle to the princes, is along for the invasion and he Cheneyily pushes for attack — they need to search for the source of these weapons of localized destruction. The city’s monarch, Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) isn’t hiding any weapons factories, but she is hiding one weapon — an ancient dagger that gives its user the power to control time. When Dastan takes the dagger from one of the soldiers he’s fighting, Tamina tries to stay close so she can get it back without alerting him to the powerful object he now possesses. But clearly someone knows about the magical dagger — Dastan is betrayed and soon he and Tamina are on the road, fighting for their lives and trying to prevent the dagger from falling into the wrong hands.

And giving some political balance to the search for nonexistent weapons: during their travels, Dastan and Tamina are briefly captured by Sheik Amar (Alfred Molina), the owner and promoter of an ostrich-racing track who has located himself way out in the forbidding desert so he won’t be at the mercy of the centralized Persian government and have to pay Persian taxes.

Do they get Glenn Beck’s radio show in ancient Persia?

I’ve seen plenty of PG-13 movies that seem more like Rs with slightly fewer F-words. Prince of Persia is not something I’d bring an impressionable 7-year-old to but a kid who is maybe 9 or 10 and has a good grasp on reality vs. fantasy would probably be OK with it — there are scary villains and there is lots of sword/dagger/snake-fighting violence and people die, but it’s no worse than the Indiana Jones movies I watched as a kid. I mention this because I feel like that’s what this movie primarily is — an action movie you can take older elementary schoolers to. They’ll probably enjoy it and you won’t hate it or suffer to much while watching.

Though the movie weighs in at nearly two hours, it’s a speedy affair — lots of action, not a whole lot of talking and backstory. There’s the romance-tinged (but rather chaste) antagonistic buddy-action of Princess Tamina and Dastan, a journey to get somewhere, a journey to find the magic whatsit, another race to stop the evil whatever. There are assorted villains along the way — some who turn out not to be so bad, some who turn out to be hissing caricatures despite having an Academy Award and the title Sir. This is not the kind of acting that people spend months getting into character to do. Everybody gives, you know, enough to make their roles work and leaves it at that. And if you were waiting for a Robin Hood-esque bit of hyper-realism about ancient Persia, you can keep on waiting — this isn’t quite a live-action version of Aladdin but it’s a very movie-looking movie. The characters are pretty and rather tidy even when they’ve had some dirt artfully painted on them; the ancient world is kind of clean and orderly, like a well-supervised theme park.

I’m not saying this is great cinema. I have no idea why Jake Gyllenhaal, an American, is playing a Persian but seems to be doing a British accent. I don’t really care all that much about the mythology surrounding the dagger and magical source of power the Princess’s city is protecting. Thankfully, at least for this movie, Prince of Persia doesn’t get overly concerned with these things either. It gives us the very basics and then turns its attentions to Gyllenhaal’s character’s sweet fighting skills and tendency to wage battle with nifty, jumping-from-the-rooftop stunts. B-

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action. Directed by Mike Newell and written by Boaz Yakin, Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard (from a screen story and video game series by Jordan Mechner), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is an hour and 55 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Walt Disney Studios.