In ancient times, the gods made the gift of a dagger, an instrument to release the sands capable of reversing time whose possessor would wield incredible power, to humankind. When evil forces threaten, it is up to Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal), an urchin adopted by a king, aided by a princess, Tamina ("Clash of the Titans'" Gemma Arterton), whom he doesn't entirely trust, to keep the dagger on the side of of the righteous in "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time."
If Disney could make a hit series out of one of their own amusement park rides, why not take on a video game? With all the Disney elements in place - a treacherous uncle (Ben Kingsley's Nizam), a plucky princess, the funny sidekick ('unscrupulous small businessman' Sheik Amar) and a hero with the eyes of an animated Disney princess - "Prince of Persia" is an unabashed popcorn flick that's quite a bit of fun. If only it weren't so enamored with repeating its 'good guys have the dagger, lose the dagger, get the dagger, lose the dagger' plot and its '"Stargate" inside an egg timer' CGI climax. Still, it has that all important element that "Clash of the Titans" lacked - a sense of humor - and more swashbuckling than "Robin Hood."
Screenwriters Boaz Yakin ("A Price Above Rubies"), Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard ("The Uninvited") use an obvious Iraq war metaphor to hang their adventure on. As the king's eldest, Tus (Richard Coyle), approaches the sacred City of Alamut with his army, word arrives that Alamut has been manufacturing weapons and giving them to the enemy of King Sharaman (Ronald Pickup). The King had strictly told Tus not to attack Alamut, but in his absence, even without solid proof, he does so. Dastan, who disagrees with the decision, nonetheless manages to scale the walls first and intercepts a man fleeing on horseback and takes the unusual dagger he was couriering. The Princess is not amused. But matters take a more severe turn when Dastan is given a ceremonial cloak to gift to their father by Tus. The cloak turns out to be poisoned, killing the king and making Dastan the obvious suspect, and so he and the Princess become an unlikely duo on the run.
Gyllenhaal turns out to be a decent action hero, all buffed up and not taking himself too seriously. Elements of Parkour have been added to the roof leaping, wall running, ostrich dodging action. Arterton fares much better than she did in the dreary "Titans," here both feisty and fetching, throwing down put downs like daggers. Alfred Molina ("An Education") has a blast as the runner of fixed ostrich racing and tax evader, a 'bad guy' who turns out not to be so bad. He also comes equipped with a formidable African knife thrower, Seso (Steve Toussaint), who can 'decapitate three men with one strike.'
Director Mike Newell (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) keeps things lively and doesn't abuse the CGI until near film's end, the only time video games may enter one's consciousness. The film does begin to wear out one's patience the umpteenth Dastan loses control of the dagger, although the introduction of the Hassansins (silly name, yes), adds some welcome evil sorcery to the mix. The film's coda uplifts it again, riffing romantically with the titular sands.
"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" may, oddly enough, turn out to be one of the summer's better mainstream offerings. It's got humor and even a little bit of heart.
Robin did not see this film.
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