Review - Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (*1/2)

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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.  116 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Mike Newell.  Written by Boaz Yakin and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard.  Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Gemma Arterton, and Alfred Molina.

Prince of Persia finds producerJerry Bruckheimer trying to mine the same formula that made Pirates of the Caribbean such an all-audience smash hit back in 2003.  Without Johnny Depp though, and no discernible style or story to speak of, the results are more lackluster than blockbuster.  Prince of Persia is further proof that movies based on popular video games just don't work.  Please stop making them.  Even with an A-list cast (Jake Gyllenhaal), producer (Bruckheimer), and director (Mike Newell), and the financial backing of Disney, the movie can't escape the fact that it is overprocessed, un-organic, Hollywood hooey.  It is an immediate non-starter of a wannabe franchise, lacking any sense of wonder or satisfaction.  And it features the most incomprehensible depiction of time travel I've ever seen.  Hell, Hot Tub Time Machine had a better grasp of the concept.

 Gyllenhaal, beefy but sorely miscast and unconvincing, plays the adventurous prince Dastan.  When Dastan is framed for killing his father, he goes on the run with his brothers and others in hot pursuit.  Accompanied by the beautiful, wily princess Tamina (Clash of the Titans' Gemma Arterton), Dastan tries to uncover the wrongdoer, all while protecting an ancient dagger capable of releasing the Sands of Time (or some other end-of-the-world nonsense).  When Gyllenhaal and his stunt double aren't performing unimpressive parkour in the action sequences, he's sparring with Arterton in true (sub-par) romantic comedy fashion.  Arterton is particularly annoying in this movie, choosing to pout whenever any expression is required of her.

Director Newell did a fine job with big budget action in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but there, he was capably assisted by a crackerjack special effects team who knew what they were doing and had three other films worth of practice.  Here, he seems lost amidst all the chaos, using odd camera angles and awkward slow-motion in various scenes.  His director of photography does him no favors either.  I think Chicago Tribune columnist Michael Phillips said it best when he called Prince of Persia the most orange movie he's ever seen.  That's a good description of the visuals: orange - all the better to hide the fact that many white actors have been cast in the key roles.  The whole movie looks that way, and proves to be an eyesore by film's end.

The plot is standard stuff, no worse than other films of its ilk, with the big reveal of the villain all but telegraphed from miles away.  If the rest of the movie were more enjoyable, I might be able to forgive this transgression, but instead it just further adds to the misery.  I'm sure there are people out there who are going to enjoy the movie on a dumb fun kind of level.  I am usually one of them.  But as I left the theater, all I could think of was this: (1) Prince of Persia is crap; and (2) 2010 has been one sucky year at the movies so far. 

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