PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME: Sand, Swords, and the Cosmic Reset Dagger

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010) – Directed by Mike Newell – Starring Jake Gyllenhall, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Ronald Pickup, Steve Touissant, Richard Coyle, and Toby Gebbel.

Watching PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME, it’s hard not to think that Jerry Bruckheimer is so assured of his ability to get the American public to buy whatever dish he’s slinging that he sat in the big chair in the big office and decreed, “I will make a summer blockbuster completely lacking in charisma. Casting, if you were putting together a movie that required a fun, charming, likeable lead, who would you absolutely not cast? Jake Gyllenhall? Excellent. Lackeys, draw up a contract! Daddy’s printing money tonight.”

Gyllenhall is a fine enough actor when doing something serious, but he’s as charming as lumpy spaghetti and completely unconvincing as a roguish thrillseeker. He moves through this movie with a facial expression better suited for Frankenstein; he exudes a dimwittedness that inspires … well, certainly not the Persian educational system. When the script calls on him to be charming, he fails. When it calls on him to be funny, he fails. When it calls on him to be the dashing rogue, he fails.

As awful as he is, you almost feel sorry for him for putting himself in this situation. I applaud his desire to do something different, and I’m sure doing something new challenges his artistic side as much as doing something Bruckheimer rewards his bank account. I don’t begrudge anyone wanting to cash in, but you get a pass on the desire, not the result. Even if the movie completely failed, he probably thought getting in good with Bruckheimer would be a good way to get the starring role in the next CSI. Maybe he actually thought he could pull it off; well, good on you, son, but what this movie needs ain’t what you can bring.

You can tell Gyllenhall takes his craft seriously in that it’s obvious he has studied the moves he’s expected to perform, but there’s a dramatic divide between doing what you’re supposed to do and making it look effortless, and everything he does in this movie seems calculated. I don’t mean that the character undertakes actions that seem calculated; I mean that you can practically see him think things like, “Frown” right before he frowns. The character of Dastan (a homeless street lad adopted by the king) seems purposely designed as an attempt to meld two of Bruckheimer’s successful stable of characters: Jack Sparrow and Will Turner from the Pirates of the Carribbean franchise. Like Jack, Dastan is the roguish charmer, but one tempered with Will’s daddy issues.

(Heck, the fact that this movie doesn’t star Orlando Bloom probably says a lot more about where that guy’s career isn’t going than where Gyllenhall’s is headed. Or, maybe it just means Bloom was busy.)

Then again, PERSIA has such a dumb script with such hokey dialogue that maybe there’s not much anyone could do.

With every passing attempt to do one of these sand blockbusters, my affinity and respect for The Mummy and Brendan Fraser increases. I feel pretty comfortable saying Gyllenhall is the better actor of the two, but Fraser is infinitely better in movies like PERSIA and The Mummy that require a lead to carry you through all the craziness, and just as importantly, that can get you to root for the not-quite-good guy while he’s becoming a good guy. Gyllenhall doesn’t do this, but the script doesn’t assist him, as almost right from the start the script hampers our ability to pull for this guy.

Sure, when Dastan is the homeless kid fighting the King’s Guard we can root for him, but the next time we see him he’s the shirking-in-his-duties Prince who’s more comfortable with the average folk in the army instead of the troops with nice armor. He’s not super inclined to raid the holy city of Alamut, but when the decision is made by his brother Tus, Dastan goes all bad-ass and sneaks into the city with his private army of street fighters to … punch and kick and shoot arrows and …

Look, is there any reason to go over the plot? He fights, he wins, there’s a magical dagger, there’s a girl, he’s framed, she helps him escape, they go on a quest, he wins. Lots of people die along the way but PRESTO they’re all alive again at the end because Kid Frankenstein Face pushes the secret button on the super magical dagger and …

It’s so dumb. We watch a movie, a bunch of things happen, and then Prince Sourpuss hits the cosmic reset button and suddenly we’re back near the beginning, before the King died, before Dastan was framed, before his bestest buddy was murdered, before Alfred Molina desperately tried to save the movie by being the only person in the entire film with the ability to amuse you, before Brother #1 died, before Brother #2 died, before Princess Hotness died, before the world almost ended because Gandhi wanted to be King.

I hate the cosmic reset button.

There are ways to use it effectively, but generally not when it robs the characters of the consequence of their actions. When the reset button is pushed just to put everything back the way it was … blech. So, great, Dastan ends up changed by his journey, but everyone else gets to cheat death, meaning the ultimate message of the movie is not to live better, but to always have control of the magic weapon that can undo anything bad. And now he knows what to do to get down with the formerly dead Tamina.

And what’s Kingsley doing showing up in yet another movie where he cashes in on his name by standing around looking bored and grumpy? I don’t really think Kingsley acts in these movies as much as he snorts a laxative before each take, because he always just looks like he’s worried about crapping his silly wardrobe.

Dastan never becomes a likable character. Dastan wants to go back in time because he was framed? Because his daddy got killed? Why? Why does he get to play God because his life took a turn into Suck Alley? Everyone and everything gets erased when he goes back in time. How many people had good moments in their lives erased because this selfish dickbag put his own wants and desires above everyone else’s? And we’re supposed to applaud him?

Princess Stuck-Up-But-Softening is the stupid dagger’s protector or guardian or whatever important sounding name the movie gives her, and while she initially has the plan to … wait for it … let some super mountain suck the the weapon inside itself, and while she does semi-convince Jakey that it’s the right thing to do, the bad guys show up just in time so that Dumb and Dour don’t actually have to make the hard choice.

Because PERSIA doesn’t actually require it’s characters to follow through on the hard choice. They just have to sort of stew about them so we can see an important decision has to be made, and then a plot contrivance shows up to render it all moot.

Dastan and Tamina get to the big crystal sand container just in time to stop Kingsley from destroying it. The Princess dies in the process (and Jake says, “Princess” like he thinks he’s channeling Han Solo, but if he is, it’s a Han Solo that’s been lobotomized), Dastan and Gandhi fight, and Jake hits the magic button and suddenly where back to the scene where Dastan first possessed the dagger over an hour earlier in the movie, and everyone ends up happy except for Ben Kingsley, who gets dead, but he doesn’t care because the check has already cleared.

Ugh.

There is zero – ZERO – chemistry between Gyllenhall and Arterton. There hasn’t been anyone so unconvincingly scoring points with a beauty in a film like this since Orlando Bloom was putting the moves on Diane Kruger back in Troy.

I was going to say something nice about the special effects, but at this point high quality CGI is like a the packet of mustard by the hot dog vendor – of course you’re offering it, but what else ya got?

Boring, dumb, lacking any ability to amuse you when Alfred Molina ain’t around, PRINCE OF PERSIA: SANDS OF TIME is officially one of the all-time dummies.

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