Synopsis: An adventurous prince teams up with a rival princess to stop an angry ruler from unleashing a sandstorm that could destroy the world.
Why We're Excited: Every summer needs a goofy, costumey action flick, and this could be the one for this year. Gyllenhaal cuts a mighty fine figure in his sword-and-sandals togs, Arterton looks sparky and fun in the trailer, and Kingsley is always a welcome villain. Director Newell helmed the action-oriented Harry Potter and the Goblin of Fire, and his balance there of action and story could work here nicely.
Why We're Not: This doesn’t look like the next Pirates of the Caribbean, which we bet is what producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney execs are hoping for. Will audiences stay home and play the video game instead?
Pirates crafted a recipe for success, and Persia follows it almost to the ingredient. There's a handsome but blasé leading man in Jake Gyllenhaal, a headstrong and beautiful female counterpart in Gemma Arterton, pedigreed character actors cast as villains and comic relief (Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina, respectively), gravity-defying action set against exotic backdrops, and healthy doses of mystical mythology that opens the door to the kinds of impressive special effects needed to lure summer crowds out of the heat and into air-conditioned theaters.
What's missing -- besides Johnny Depp -- is that cavalier sense of adventure and contagious wave of fun that carried Pirates over its rough patches. There's levity in Persia, though it's too often buried beneath the dense mythology and force-fed political commentary that confuses, rather than enhances, the plot.
Fans of the video game franchise on which Persia is based might be expecting the brand of patrician intrigue that muddles the Sands of Time script (credited to three screenwriters). I never played it, so the story of orphaned Dastan (Gyllenhaal) was new to me and relatively novel. Adopted at a young age by Persian king Sharaman (Ronald Pickup), Dasdan grows to fight alongside surrogate brothers Tus (Richard Coyle) and Garsiv (Toby Kebbell). At the suggestion of the family's trusted advisor, Nizam (Ben Kingsley), the brothers invade an ancient city and overthrow Princess Tamina (Arterton). But Nizam's motives are deceitful, and soon Dastan -- wanted for a murder he didn't commit -- must team with Tamina to protect a magical dagger that has the ability to manipulate time.
Re-typing that condensed synopsis confused me, so you can imagine what it feels like actually trudging through the unnecessarily complicated Sands of Time. As you'd expect from a Bruckheimer joint, the action is first rate, with director Mike Newell devising fantastically exaggerated methods for daggers, whips, and other lethal shrapnel to gracefully soar through the air. Granted, you're rarely sure who is throwing what at whom or why. But you go along for the ride as Gyllenhaal's buff warrior dodges a fleet of stampeding ostriches, scales fortress walls with the assistance of well-placed arrows, or surfs a tidal wave of sand toward a golden, gleaming dagger for his preposterous showdown with the always eager Kingsley.
I'm exhausted simply remembering all of it. The guy sitting next to me at Persia leaned over during the end credits to state that this was, in his opinion, the worst movie he's seen all summer. When pressed, he admitted the only other film he'd caught was Iron Man 2. Had he sat through Sex and the City 2 or, God forbid, MacGruber, he'd sing a different tune. (And technically speaking, summer hasn't even begun yet.)
Prince of Persia isn't terrible. It has its moments, but they're fleeting. It's probably in the upper crust of video-game adaptations, though when you think back over the likes of Super Mario Brothers, Alone in the Dark, and BloodRayne (also starring happy check-casher Kingsley), that's not saying much. A court jester might have helped loosen up this Prince, because as it stands, it's pretty rigid.