Film Review: Prince of Persia

2010 – 115mn – 12A

Directed by Mike Newell. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Richard Coyle, Toby Kebbel, Alfred Molina.

Review by Walter Nichols

BASED on the video game of the same name, Prince of Persia is a new blockbuster produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the man who brought us Pirates of the Caribbean, Bad Boys, National Treasure and Armageddon. It follows an adventurous young Persian prince (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a sassy princess (Gemma Arterton) who team up to stop a devious, corrupt ruler from destroying the world. Their quest involves a magic dagger that can turn back time (that’s right), sword fights, and lots of “parkour” – the street sport of jumping off and bouncing against walls and other obstacles.

The plot itself is an unnecessarily heavy-handed riff on the Iraq war. The belligerous young Persian princes (which in addition to Gyllenhaal also count Richard Coyle and Toby Kebbel) attack a peaceful city they suspect of making weapons for their enemies. What they don’t know is that their evil uncle (Ben Kingsley), essentially the Dick Cheney-like vice-president of their empire, has tricked them into doing so, fabricating the evidence to disguise the fact that what he really wants is the city’s invaluable, secret, and magical underground resource: a holy sand that can turn back time at will.

This all plods along with the help of lots of boring exposition and even more wooden dialogue.

It takes a certain acting skill to make shlock like this work, and while Gyllenhaal and Arterton both provide plenty of eye candy for both sexes, they acquit themselves of their thespian tasks with varying success. Arterton is both gorgeous and good, even lumbered with an unlikeable character that swings arbitrarily from proud and strong to shrieking love interest and back. Gyllenhaal brings massive shoulders, ripped arms, and a six-pack to end all six-packs; but for all his effort he feels lightweight in every other department. His character is obviously modeled on Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones. But where Ford looked like he’d just come back from actually running through jungles and digging through mud, Gyllenhaal looks like he’s spent most of the week at the spa. He smiles in all the wrong bits and is over-earnest in all the others. His prince’s romantic relationship with Arterton’s princess doesn’t light up the screen, but the blame for that lies mostly with the dreadful third-rate banter they have to work with.

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Not even the best director you’ve never heard of, Mike Newell (who brought us Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco, and even lent a steady hand to Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire), can save this mess. He makes it look gorgeous and cleverly models the action scenes on an action-platform video game, staging them with the same fluid, larger-than-life physical rules. But everything is paced in fits and starts, never quite grabs your attention, and runs (like every other movie these days) 20 minutes too long. Unless you’re a male under 18, there’s not much to be excited about here – and even then, you’ll have forgotten most of it buy the time your foot hits the pavement outside the cinema afterwards.

Star rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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