Published May 27, 2010Once upon a time, in an age when honour and destiny were paramount, Jake Gyllenhaal decided to pee all over my Donnie Darko/Brokeback Mountain bonfire of respect for him with this manufactured, derivative, paint-by-numbers epic, based on a forgettable videogame. The result was a conundrum that would echo through the spectre of time: which half-cut casting director thought Jake Gyllenhaal could ever remotely resemble a Persian?
Prince Dastan (Gyllenhaal, who bulked up considerably for the role) is wrongly accused of his father's murder and must set out to prove his innocence whilst revealing the treachery of the true killer, who remains at large. Princess Tamina of Alamut (Gemma Arterton, Quantum of Solace), whose city the king has just sacked, shows him the power of a sand-filled dagger that can help his cause, but first they'll have to learn to trust each other if they want to make it out alive.
All the elements of other flops in the same genre (Troy, Alexander) are present: the beautiful, but headstrong Princess who's so going to fall in love with the Prince no matter what she says; the evil king's brother who'll stop at nothing to steal the crown (Ben Kingsley, whose enormous talents are wasted); the super-fantastic chases through ancient Middle Eastern marketplaces; and the all-powerful desert Gods who can make snakes fly, magic time-travelling daggers and men live in sand-dervishes.
But the most noticeable feature of this film is its wilful awkwardness ― from the queasy, seasick pacing to the listing, lurching plot devices. This thing is so storyboarded that it's impossible to articulate how most scenes, while entertaining, add to the overall plot. That's not to say that the detailed special effects, the ornate sets and costumes, the sweeping-spectacle of CGI and breakneck fight choreography and battle scenes are unsuccessful. Just that the plot, dialogue and characters become secondary (at best) or tertiary (at worst).
However, there is a clever analogy embedded within: it's revealed the invasion of Alamut, in search of weapons, was based on a lie, as no such weapons exist, and that the kingdom never dismantled their secret government killing projects. Okay, it's not much, but that's the most Disney will ever comment on the Iraq war, so enjoy it while you can.
Standout performances include Toby Kebbell (RocknRolla) and Richard Coyle (The Libertine) as Princes Garsiv and Tus, who give their conflicted characters more depth than surely is written in the script. Always a crowd-pleaser, Alfred Molina gives a delightful turn as a scheming buffoon who runs illegal gambling on ostrich racing.
There's a perverse, tasteless, ostentatious and self-sabotaging part of my character that wants to enjoy Prince of Persia. I can't help it; it's a survival instinct to endure the running time. I just turn my brain into a pre-pubescent boy's for two hours. Suddenly I'm clapping during the end credits. Ironic? Nah. Contrariwise? Possibly. Good cinema? Most definitely not. (Disney)