Persia gives video game movies a better name
Remember those old Nintendo games? The kind you had to blow on until you were blue in the face? Only to have it lock up when you're finally about to rescue the princess?
It was frustrating, tiresome, and it grew old fast. Not surprisingly, most video game movies share the same, uh, qualities.
Disney's latest summer popcorn adventure, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, based on the ever-expanding video game series, somehow eludes this category and, on this merit alone, deserves a fair share of praise.
Consider some of its predecessors - Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon, Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark, and you'd start to think Duck Hunt would make a better movie. Get Christopher Walken to voice that smug, laughing dog, and you've got a surefire winner.
That's not to say Prince of Persia is great by any means. It's predictable, loud, absurd and very busy, but, like a video game, it makes for a fun diversion, no thinking necessary, and a decent summer popcorn flick at that.
Depicting the most Caucasian Middle-Easterners since an animated Robin Williams leapt from a genie's lamp (granted, he was blue in that), Prince of Persia stars Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko) as titular character Dastan, the adopted son of Persian King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup, A Dry White Season).
Handpicked from the slums for his display of courage and honor, Dastan is raised as an equal to the king's two sons, eventually growing into a warrior both clever and proud.
As his elder brother, Tus (Richard Coyle, A Good Year), leads a siege on the city of Alamut, Dastan leads a sneak attack that results in considerably less casualties, as well as an unusual prize - a mysterious dagger that can turn back time.
With Tus planning to take Alamut's Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton, Clash of the Titans) as a bride, King Sharaman arrives to oversee the occupation, only to be assassinated shortly thereafter. Dastan is framed for the misdeed, and he and Tamina narrowly escape Alamut with dagger in tow.
Not long into their journey, Dastan discovers the dagger's hidden power and begins to suspect his own family for the death of his father - Tus, who has since been named king, and their uncle, Nizam (Ben Kingsley, Gandhi), who has lived in Sharaman's shadow since childhood. Both, it seems, would benefit from possessing the magical blade.
In the quest to clear his name, and with the help of unlikely allies, including scoundrel Sheik Amar (Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2), Dastan and Tamina must brave the elements, a vicious horde of Hassassin warriors and the dagger's deadly secret, which could spell doom for the entire world.
As a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure, Prince of Persia works - high on action, wisecracks and romance. And it's that Disney brand of adventure, meaning you can expect happy, clean, no-loose-ended endings, yet with a prime opportunity for a sequel or two.
On the other end, it's produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Armageddon), meaning that action will be as mindless as it comes, filled to the brim with overbearing special effects, unnecessary slow-motion shots, overused plot devices and a paint-by-numbers storyline.
Though the writing's lackluster, Prince succeeds because of its lead actors. Bulked up almost beyond recognition, Gyllenhaal - better known for roles in your more independent releases - demonstrates his versatility as an actor by pulling off a mainstream action role without a hitch. It's a simple character without much depth, but Gyllenhaal brings an arrogant charm that makes Dastan likeable, nonetheless.
The always lovely Arterton serves as an ideal counterpart, low on substance but high on charm, and the two share as good a chemistry as one could expect in such a movie.
Kingsley's character, who's more two-dimensional than Donkey Kong, could've been played by anyone, but fortunately for viewers, that's not the case. Per usual with his paycheck roles, Kingsley brings a cool professionalism to Nizam that makes you forget he's based on a video game character.
In fact, were it not for several obvious references, you might just forget Prince's gamer origins. And that's the best compliment a video game movie can receive.
Directed by Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action. It's playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.